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Syrian torturer is sentenced to life in jail for crimes against humanity

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Anwar Raslan, holding face mark, in court yesterday in Koblenz, Germany, where he was convicted of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus. Photo: Thomas Frey/AP

Anwar Raslan, holding face mark, in court yesterday in Koblenz, Germany, where he was convicted of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus. Photo: Thomas Frey/AP

Anwar Raslan, holding face mark, in court yesterday in Koblenz, Germany, where he was convicted of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus. Photo: Thomas Frey/AP

A German court sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to life in prison yesterday for crimes against humanity in a landmark ruling against the Assad regime.

The conviction is the first time the regime has been held responsible for state-sponsored torture by a court anywhere in the world.

Anwar Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian intelligence service, was found guilty of the murder of 27 detainees and the torture of 4,000 at the notorious al-Khatib prison in Damascus.

He was also found guilty of the rape and sexual assault of prisoners.

Raslan defected from the regime of Bashar al-Assad and fled Syria in the early years of the civil war. He was granted asylum in Germany and was for a time active in Syrian exile opposition groups.

But German authorities began investigating his past after he admitted his work as an intelligence officer to police. He was also recognised by Syrian refugees, who compiled evidence against him.

The trial was held in Germany under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that war crimes and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted anywhere regardless of where they were committed.

Raslan was head of interrogation at the Branch 251 intelligence unit, which ran the prison, and was held responsible for the crimes committed there as commanding officer.

Former inmates testified to the court how they were blindfolded and beaten, given electronic shocks, kept in cells so crowded they could only stand and forcibly prevented from sleeping.

Raslan, who denied the charges against him, declined to testify on the stand, but in a written statement claimed he secretly sympathised with the Syrian opposition and ordered the release of Arab Spring protesters.

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More than 80 witnesses testified against him, including former inmates at al-Khatib prison.

Amer Matar told the court he was blindfolded and beaten with an electric cable and a whip until he could not stand after he took a photo of Raslan watching anti-Assad protesters at a demonstration.

“More than 10 years after the violations were committed in Syria, the German court’s verdict is a long-awaited beacon of hope that justice can and will in the end prevail,” said Balkees Jarrah, of Human Rights Watch.

The sentencing marks a “landmark leap forward in the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations”, United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said yesterday.


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