Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Lawyers for the victims are demanding a new charge of “enforced disappearance” to be added to the indictment against Anwar Ruslan.
Luna Watfa: My report on a new hearing of accused Anwar Ruslan’s trial on 22/07/21 this time with a witness who came to testify in his favour as well as being a relative.
As the hearing began, the witness K.R. expressed his desire not to indicate his personal information in the courtroom. Judge Kerber replied it was his right if proven to the judges that there was a threat to his life or a member of his family but the panel of judges considered it was not his case and told him he was required to give his personal information in the courtroom which he did.
The witness K.R. then stated he was the accused Anwar Raslan’s son-in-law as well as his relative as Raslan’s mother was his aunt. At that point, the judges’ panel told him that by virtue of his proven kinship and according to the law, he was entitled to refrain from testifying but the witness expressed his desire to give his statements and answer all the questions asked.
KR began by explaining that he had known the accused since he was five years old as he was one of his relatives. He also met the accused several times during his military service in Damascus. Once his military service over, he asked for Raslan’s daughter’s hand and the latter accepted. As concerned Raslan’s work, the witness said he knew his “uncle” – as he called him all along the session –began as a policeman, had worked for more than twenty years as an assistant then he studied law and then moved on to the intelligence services.
When asked what he knew about the accused’s work in the intelligence services he replied that his “uncle” told him his work was related to the protection of diplomats and that the al Khatib branch dealt mainly with state security studies, internal studies and state security. He then added:
“Sometimes he was involved in extremist attacks before the events. The goal of the Al-Khatib branch’s employees was to fight terrorism.”
When asked what he meant by “before the events” he replied from 2000 to 2011.
Then the judges asked him what he knew about what had happened after 2011. He replied he had written down notes on paper and asked if he could read them to which the judges agreed.
He began by reading the following:
“Since the outbreak of the revolution in Daraa in 2011 then in Homs, Damascus and the rest of the other provinces, my uncle used to tell me about certain things due to our kinship. Following a demonstration in Damascus at the beginning in April May, 2011, Hafez Makhlouf, head of Branch 40, arrested a large number of demonstrators and had them transferred to the al-Khatib branch. After this incident, he was directly accused of aiding and sympathizing with the detainees.”
The judge asked him again about the source of his information and he replied it was his “uncle” who had told him. He continued:
“Since then, it was said that all his private and public life was being monitored even his mobile phone and his acquaintances because he was suspected of being a sleeper cell. His work at the branch was frozen and his responsibilities were withdrawn. At a later date Tawfiq Younis, head of the Branch 251, summoned him and told him about the Houla demonstrations and described the demonstrators as traitors.”
“And yet, my uncle continued to carry out his work until when he decided to quit his job as he was seriously thinking about defecting but the situation proved very difficult, especially as he and his family were constantly being monitored. He informed me about his decision to defect and I was one of his assistants and supporters. I met someone in Zabadani to arrange the process to defect and everything went well but the main problem was that they could not secure his uncle’s exit without his family which was why my uncle rejected it outright and the attempt failed.”
“In 2012, around September, my uncle informed me I should leave the country with my wife and children as soon as possible as he could secure a way for me to travel to Lebanon.”
Following several detailed questions, the witness was asked if he had been confronted with any difficulties due to the nature of the accused’s work and because he was his uncle. He replied he was working as a sports teacher and lost his job because of the events so he opened a small supermarket.
Around November December, 2011, he was kidnapped for three days though not at his workplace. During that period, he was accused of having opened this store to be able to monitor the movements of the Free Army because the area was under his uncle’s control. After 3 days, however, they let him go and apologized to him. According to the witness, they had carried out an investigation while he was with them and told him:
“After we asked about you and your uncle in particular, it became clear to us that your uncle was a good person and helped people, so we apologize to you.”
KR’s account on the issue of kidnapping differed slightly from what he had told the criminal police and what he submitted to the court. So the panel of judges repeated the witness’s statements to the police in court and he confirmed their validity. The judges’ questions to him ended and a long round of questions from the parties to the case began.
The Public Prosecution Office asked the witness K.R. about the first time the accused had mentioned he wanted to defect from the regime and he replied:
“My uncle was against the policy of injustice and became an observer. However, he could not provide much help after that as no one can choose neutrality in Syria and is forced to choose. A party is either with the regime or with the Free Army but his uncle always said that he was against arms for any party, and therefore he decided to defect so that his hands would not be stained with blood.”
The public prosecutor told him he had not answered his question and the witness answered it was at the beginning of April or May 2011.
He was then asked about the armed confrontations between the two parties in Homs and when they began. He replied that the first demonstration in Homs took place at the same time and he had seen it on television and heard of clashes that occurred at the time. The Public Prosecution wanted to know when the Free Army began attacking the regular army there. He replied that he did not participate in the demonstrations, and that due to the demonstrations and the riots, he terminated his contract as a sports coach and started working in the supermarket. The Public Prosecution also inquired about the period when the Free Army controlled the area. He replied the Free Army controlled the area since the beginning of the revolution until February 13, 2012, when the regime regained it.
Regarding his kidnapping, he said that he was sympathetic to the revolution, but he personally wished to see a peaceful solution not a military one. The public prosecutor asked him if he had told the kidnappers that his uncle wanted to defect. He replied that he did not tell them that but only told them that he helped the detainees.
The Public Prosecution referred to this point several times and told the witness he did not understand why he had not informed them of Raslan’s intention to defect if they had praised him and released the witness after asking about him. However, the witness did not give a clear answer to that. He answered again that the kidnapping occurred at the end of 2011 and his uncle’s defection occurred in 2012, which was also not a convincing answer because he had previously said that his uncle’s intention to defect was around April or May in 2011 and that he had talked about it with him. After several questions, the witness finally admitted he could not trust the kidnappers enough to give them such information.
He was then asked about his reasons for leaving Homs, and he explained he left after the Karm al-Zaytoun massacre without even being able to take his personal belongings with him, just as everyone else left, because of the bombing by regime tanks. When asked how the massacre happened, he replied he was not there personally but the regime began bombing with tanks and perhaps there was resistance from the Free Army but there was a road where civilians could flee. After about 3 days, the regime took control of the area.
The defense lawyers for the accused then returned to the issue of their client’s defection. The witness said that in December his uncle was able to reach Ghouta and at the beginning of 2013, he left for Jordan. The regime was searching for him at the time and destroyed his property in Homs. During the defendant’s stay in Jordan, the conditions were very bad, according to the witness, as he refused to join the Free Army because of his refusal to take up arms. He also defected from the regime, and his children were forced to drop out of school and he had to pay the rent.
The witness was then asked about how the accused left Jordan for Germany. He replied:
« My uncle submitted a request to the German embassy and a person in Germany called Riad Seif helped him and so he was able to reach Germany in 2014. He participated in the Geneva conference and joined the Coalition and hoped a peaceful solution could be found in Syria.”
The witness and a civil plaintiff, who had participated in the session a day earlier, on 07/21/2021, attended the session. She also had the right to ask the witness questions. He was asked about his use of the word “juveniles” a term the regime used to use, and why did he use “revolution” when he began to read from his written notes. He was asked to explain why he used the two words. The witness replied that he meant “by the events” everything that is new and therefore post-2011 was the new event in Syria, and of course he meant the Syrian revolution.
After several questions from the civil prosecution regarding a discrepancy between what the accused Raslan had said and about not knowing one of the names he was asked about in court, and what was stated in the defendant’s own defense statement, he specifically mentioned this name and the defendant’s statement at the time that he sent his son-in-law K.R – that is, the witness – to this person to arrange the defection. The witness replied there was no conflict because he was simply trying to help his uncle and the person had not succeeded because he was not able to secure the departure for the accused’s entire family just for Raslan the accused. He did not mention anything about his answer in court about not knowing the name. .
Finally, the witness wanted to make a statement of his own. He said:
“We are in Germany in a state of law and justice yet something is happening now. We, as Anwar’s family, are present in Germany and there are constant calls on social media to kill Anwar and his family with his children, old and young, in addition to naming Anwar the Zionist, and this is what he called him. I wanted to say that any defendant is not guilty until he is convicted! »
The witness was asked about the name of the other witness who described the accused with this description, so he submitted it on a written paper and the name was put in the case file.
At the end of the session, the Civil Right Prosecution submitted a lengthy request explaining the main charges against the accused Raslan based on witness testimonies, namely murder, torture and deprivation of liberties.
A new request was raised in the court to issue an additional legal reference that would include a new charge of “Enforced Disappearance” which occurred without the disappeared knowing their fate or what would happen to them. Their families were not informed of their whereabouts, citing the disappeared doctor Hayan Mahmoud, brother of the witness and civil plaintiff, Hassan Mahmoud, as well as other witnesses and much more evidence.
The court will rule on this request in the coming months.