Koblenz Trial 26.08.2021: Interrogator to civil rights activist: « I am ready with a single bullet to kill you here and No one will ask about you. »

Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer

Report on a hearing of Anwar Raslan accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity in Syria in 2011/2012. The witness, a human rights activist, was accused of committing treason.

On 26th of August 2021, the witness and civil plaintiff appeared at Koblenz Court and began his testimony by identifying himself as working in a human rights center while also organizing activities for children and working as a photographer.

In June 2012, the former human rights detainee described how he was sitting with his friends when a mobile checkpoint came by and asked for their IDs and when they found that one of his friend’s ID was torn, they were all arrested. They were told that the matter would not take more than a quarter of an hour to fix and were placed in a car with an automatic machine gun on them and taken to Branch 40.

The witness was the first to enter the Branch ahead of his companions and the officers there began beating him at once and accusing him of committing treason. He was then placed in the Branch corridor from where he could hear an officer’s voice talking to one of his Alawite friends who had been arrested with them asking him:

“How can you go walking with terrorists like that? They are killing us! And they are making war on us!”

His Alawite friend replied that he knew them well and that they were good people – meaning the witness and the rest of the group who were arrested with him – to which the officer replied the witness was cooperating with terrorists.

The officer then allowed the Alawite detainee to speak with his family and tell them where he was and he would be released within two hours. However, the witness would never come out, according to what the officer later told a friend.

After several hours, the witness was taken to be interrogated. His shirt had been pulled over his face used as a mask but he was able to see nevertheless. One of the officers stood in front of another person who was whispering in his ear the whole time.

The witness was accused of travelling to Lebanon to fetch medical equipment intended for field hospitals as well as organizing demonstrations.

When he denied the charges against him, the officer signalled to two of the officers behind him who started beating him until he fell to the ground. He was then returned to the corridor and remained there until the morning when he was beaten once again before being taken to Al-Khatib branch, where he remained for approximately eight days.

On arrival at Al Khatib, the witness described being stripped, searched, ill-treated and humiliated in exactly the same way as other witnesses had described the “reception” before him. He was then placed in an approximately 20 square meter cell where no less than a hundred detainees were held.

After several days, the witness was summoned for an interrogation on the first floor. He waited for two hours but as he was not interrogated he was returned to the cell with his Alawite friend behind him. On their return, the witness asked the warden to put him and his friend in a single cell which prompted the warden to start beating him until he reached the group cell.

Once again he was summoned for an interrogation and asked to give the names of the people he was working with and when he denied working with others for the second time, the interrogator told him:

“I am ready with a single bullet to kill you here and no one will ask about you. I want you to give me all the names of doctors and media professionals you were coordinating with.”

The officer continued hitting the witness with the butt of the gun and then the interrogator approached him as he lay face down on the ground and raised his foot and began hitting him on the head.

After refusing to give any names, he was sent back to his cell and transferred two days later to another branch in the city of Najha with his companions.

He later learned he and other detainees were transferred from Al Khatib to Najha to hide them as a UN mission’s inspection committee was expected.

While he was being put on the bus to take him to Najha, the witness spotted four people standing nearby and he believed that the “accused” was one of them.

He remained in Najha for about a week, after which he was transferred to the Kafr Sousa branch, where he was tortured with electricity and lost consciousness because he refused to give any names when he did not even know any of them at all. The witness finally gave the names of two of his relatives who had been killed by the security forces. As the officer did not know that they were dead, he did so to have the torture cease at last.

One day, one of the officers came and asked them to collect their belongings as they were going to be released. There were about seven people, including the witness. As they left the cell they were told they were going to a place where they could leave their belongings. They were surprised when they realised they were being taken into a large garage where they saw many torture tools and the officers inside were drunk. They set to torturing the seven detainees straight away. The witness was tortured by being placed on a table and beaten and then they used the wheel method, and the others were tortured using the shabeh method – suspended by one’s wrists with metal handcuffs and beaten – and the German chair. Then they forced them to sign blank papers and threw them outside the Branch onto the ground.

The witness was not allowed to leave the prison until his family paid a sum of up to eight million Syrian pounds through considerable mediation with the state.

The witness was then required to answer questions from the parties to the lawsuit concerning the al-Khatib Branch regarding the situation there in terms of food, air, water, light and overcrowded cells where they had to take turns to sleep or while squatting.  He described widespread diseases where no medical care was available and wardens beating those who requested any kind of medicine. In fact, what he described corresponded to the statements of witnesses who had preceded him, except that he also spoke about another detainee who stripped his wife in front of him, an officer stubbed out cigarettes on him while yet another forced him to sit on a bottle of broken glass.

The witness confirmed that he had, in fact, seen a group standing outside the Al-Khatib branch and among the four of them one had a mole on his face and that he was able to identify his photo with the criminal police when it was shown to him. However, he could only confirm that he was about 60% sure that he was the “accused” because he had changed as he was slimmer now.

The defendant’s defense team then drew attention to the fact that the witness knew the lawyer, Anwar al-Bunni, personally and began asking the witness many questions about him. It was obvious that they wanted to link his testimony to Al-Bunni’s personal position towards the “accused” and therefore they thought he was inciting the witness against their client.

The witness firmly replied that he was in court to describe what had happened to him in Al Khatib and it was not Al-Bunni’s fault if all those who contacted him to be witnesses in Koblenz were arrested in Al-Khatib.

The witness also confirmed that many of them received threats and he was aware of the situation due to the nature of his personal work with a Syrian human rights center. However, he could not say any more than that because of the confidentiality of work in such organizations and the need to preserve the privacy of witnesses.