Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Here is the report on the hearing on 8 September 2021 of the « accused » Anwar Raslan’s trial when a civil plaintiff who was still suffering from the psychological effects of his arrest attended the session.
The plaintiff’s lawyer informed the judges that the Federal Criminal Police had not interrogated him previously and was, consequently, the first witness to come to court without the parties to the case having any knowledge of what experiences the witness had been through during his detention.
After the panel of judges asked him what happened to him and asked him to tell them everything in detail, the witness began by saying:
“First of all I want to thank the court and everyone who helped make it. We in Syria staged a revolution against the Syrian regime and one of the most important reasons for that was our desire to have a fair judicial system, where one, as an accused, has the right to speak or remain silent without any coercion, so I thank you very much.”
Following this introduction, the witness began relating his experience with detention to the panel of judges explaining that he worked in the field of mental health in Syria. One day, a patient visited him at his workplace on 26 September 2011. Minutes later, someone called this patient while he was with the witness. Shortly after the call, people in civilian clothes came in, put a gun to his face and arrested him. They took him to a big car and covered his face as is usually done with his shirt. The witness said that he was in shock as a result of what had happened and did not know at first where he had been taken.
Once in the security branch, the witness was placed in a group cell containing dozens of detainees. He remained for perhaps a quarter of an hour and was then transferred to a separate cell bearing the Number 1, as he believed, in which there was another detainee with many injuries. Interrogations took place at different times of the day and night when he was asked about his activity in the revolution. Whenever he denied their affirmations, the officers would throw him onto the ground and flog him on the soles of his feet with the al-falaqa method.
“Whenever I refused to give information, they would beat me. One time, the warden told me he would hit me twenty times, and if I groaned or screamed or if he heard me during that time, he would hit me even more,” the witness added, describing the way they tortured him.
Not only was he tortured during his interrogation, he also witnessed some of his friends being tortured in front of him. They had been arrested after him, most likely he presumed, in an attempt by the investigator to counter their statements with some of his.
Five days later, the witness was moved to another single cell close to where the guards slept where he remained for about twenty-five days and then transferred to a third single cell Number 2 and spent about ten days there. The witness drew up a plan in the courtroom of the cells’ locations between which he was transferred and the plan was attached to his case file.
When asked about how the interrogation was carried out in the Al-Khatib branch, he replied it included strange things. On one occasion, they asked him about his age and when he replied, they asked him if during all that time someone had hurt him or if someone from the security or the police or someone else in his life had hurt him. When he replied they had not, they asked him why then had they begun a revolution.
“Your Honor, this explains what is happening now, and perhaps it is because of this question and this mentality we undertook a revolution and will continue with it until we achieve our goals,” he pursued.
At one stage, the investigator referred to a verse of the Qur’an in which “nineteen” was mentioned referring to a verse of the Surat Al-Muddathir where Hell has nineteen treasurers entrusted with torturing the infidels and criminals. The investigator then turned to the witness and claimed:
« We have 19 security branches, so what do you think you are doing? » The witness added: « They not only dared the servants, but also the Lord of the Servants.”
The witness lost twenty kilos of weight during the period of his detention, and described all the different general, health and psychological conditions there which accorded with the testimony of witnesses before him.
As concerned his psychological situation, the witness replied:
“In isolation, where all the detainee’s time is spent in darkness, many thoughts passed through my mind such as creating a problem in order to get out and their punishing me just to make me feel alive so that I would no longer be alone there. I also thought of committing suicide because it would end my tragedy there. I had no idea what they could do to me or how this arrest would finally end.”
The witness was transferred from the al-Khatib branch to the General Intelligence Department and remained there for about seventeen days, during which he was interrogated twice. He was then transferred to the military judiciary and from there to a military prison.
When entering the military prison he discovered a small mirror, the witness said:
« Since the beginning of the detention we had not seen ourselves or what we had become and in the military prison, we saw there was a small mirror on the wall. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I did not know if I was looking at myself or one of my fellow detainees, I did not recognize myself. »
A day later, he was sent to the Palace of Justice where the judge arrested him and sent him to Adra prison, despite his denial of all the charges against him and telling him that he had confessed to them only under torture. In Adra, the witness remained for fifteen days, after which he was released.
The witness was asked about other means of torture that he experienced himself or saw applied to others. He replied that they always tortured him by beating him on his feet or hitting him with their hands and sometimes by threatening his family. As for the others, he said that he had once heard that they put a shoe in someone’s mouth and he had heard about torture with electricity.
Regarding the judges’ question to him about whether he had seen the “accused” in Al-Khatib branch or not, the witness replied that he had not seen anyone there because he was blindfolded the whole time. However, he would definitely know him if he heard his voice, but of course the “accused” had refused to give an audio sample since the beginning of the trial which was his right, as a defendant under German law.
At the end of the session, the witness’s lawyer explained that he wanted to say something to the judges outside the framework of his testimony, which the judges allowed.
He began: “I think the psychological effect that this experience has left on me is one of the motives that made me come to the court. It had a great impact on me. The psychiatrist, Frankel, who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for three years, was always present in my mind because he contributed greatly to finding a treatment to therapy after a prison experience.
As far as I am concerned, I consider that my participation in this trial is like creating a treatment for my suffering and the suffering of others who have been through this difficult experience. I hope the people within the Syrian regime’s security apparatus will know the difference between acquiring information in court in a safe manner and acquiring it following beatings and torture. Thank you ».
After the witness ended, the judges gave their opinion regarding the request of the defence lawyer to summon a witness from Turkey, who was also a defector from the regime and knew the accused personally. They refused the request to summon him because they did not find the reasons given by the defence lawyer for his summons convincing and the defence’s lengthy delay submitting the request considering it took approximately eight months to summon someone from Turkey because of the need to communicate with the capital Ankara and extract a visa for the witness and other procedures involved.