BERLIN (AP) — A former Syrian secret police colonel testified in a German court Monday that he was not involved in the torture of opponents of the regime of President Bashar Assad, in the first war crimes trial outside Syria linked to the country’s years-long conflict.
Anwar R., 57, is accused of crimes against humanity, rape and murder as head of the Al Khatib detention center, also known as Branch 251, near Damascus.
As a senior member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, R. is accused of overseeing the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people, according to the indictment.
His co-defendant, 43-year-old Eyad A., is accused of being part of a police squad that detained protesters and brought them back to Branch 251, where they were then mistreated. Neither of their last names has been released, in line with German privacy laws.
In his first statement since his trial opened in April, Anwar R. told the Koblenz state court that he was not guilty of the accusations against him.
The two defendants left Syria for Germany before their arrest in February 2019. If convicted, Anwar R. could face life imprisonment. Eyad A. could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity.
The Koblenz regional court, where the trial is being held, has reduced the number of seats available to reporters and the general public by a third due to social distancing rules to combat the coronavirus pandemic.