The German court pronounces a guilty verdict in the first torture trial in Syria

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© Reuters. German court ruled in the first torture trial in Syria

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By Andreas Buerger

KOBLENZ, Germany (Reuters) – A German court sentenced a former member of President Bashar al-Assad’s security service to 4 1/2 years in prison for facilitating the torture of civilians. This was the first such verdict for crimes against humanity in the EU for the 10 year old Syrian civil war.

The higher regional court in the western city of Koblenz said Eyad A. arrested at least 30 anti-government protesters at the start of the conflict in 2011 and sent them to a secret service, where he knew that prisoners were being tortured.

The verdict gives hope to the 800,000 Syrians in Germany who say they were tortured in state institutions after attempts to set up an international tribunal for Syria failed.

“This is an important step forward in ensuring accountability for the systematic use of torture against civilians by the Syrian government,” said Steve Kostas, an attorney with the Open Society Foundation’s judicial initiative, which represents Syrian plaintiffs.

The Assad government denies having tortured prisoners.

Eyad A.’s lawyers had asked for an acquittal and stated that he had carried out the arrests in and around Damascus under duress from his superiors. He had asked the court to consider him as a witness in broader legal efforts against the Syrian government.

The same court will continue the hearings on a second suspect identified as Anwar R., a former intelligence officer charged with 58 murders in a Damascus prison. According to the prosecutor, at least 4,000 opposition activists were tortured in 2011 and 2012.

Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni said the unprecedented ruling would accelerate efforts to bring charges against former members of the Syrian government suspected of war crimes who fled to Europe.

“History has been made,” said al-Bunni. “The first verdict against a member of the Syrian regime’s torture and murder machine is a verdict against the entire regime, not just one person. There is hope that justice is possible.”

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