A German court ruled this week in the case against a Syrian secret agent who worked in a notorious torture prison of President Bashar al-Assads regime: al-Khattib in Damascus. It is a unique verdict because, for the first time since the beginning of the war in Syria, there is a judgment on crimes committed by the Assad regime during this war.
Newssuur spoke about the trial with Wassim Mukdad, a Syrian physician and musician who was tortured in Al-Khattib, and Joumana Seif, Syrian human rights advocate, whose family members have disappeared in Assads prisons.
In September 2011, Mukdad (35) walks with friends on the streets in a suburb of Damascus, looking for an anti-government demonstration to join, as secret agents arrest him. Hes thrown into a bus blindfolded. Already on the way to Al-Khattib, torture begins. Cops hit him and set his hair on fire. To make out the smoldering fire, one of the secret agents pees all over him.
For five days Mukdad is in Al-Khattib, then 12 days in another prison. “It was hell. We were with 87 men in a room just over 20 square feet. To sleep we lay like sardines piled up. We were just tamped to make more room.”
During questioning, he should lie blindfolded on his stomach, with his soles raised. “Every time I gave an answer she didnt like, I was beaten with tubes or a plastic hose: on the soles of my feet, my ankles, my legs.”
Mukdad doesnt tell his torturers that he is a musician. “I held my hands crossed under my belly. That was my personal act of resistance. As long as my hands remain intact, they can beat whatever they want, they wont break me.”
Only at the end of his detention he learns what he is accused of: participating in a demonstration during a curfew. It does not come to a trial. “They didnt want to judge me at all, they just wanted to torture me. Its about sowing fear. Fear among the population.”
In 2014 Mukdad flees to Germany. Last year he testified against Anwar R. “That was painful, because all those terrible memories came back to the surface. But when I looked him in the eye, it became clear to me what I was doing it for. Its not about him personally. Its about Assads whole system, the systematic torture, in which he participated.”
In the last decade, according to non-governmental organisations, nearly 100 000 Syrian citizens have been tortured or simply disappeared in state prisons. Even now, tens of thousands are still stuck. Human rights advocate Joumana Seif (51) talks about her father, businessman and opposition leader, who spent more than five years in prison, “arrested for asking critical questions”. And she tells about her uncle who disappeared at 26 and never came back and her cousin who spent months in prison and “never spoke a word about it.”
She considers it important that it becomes clear in Koblenz that torture and fear of it are two of the main pillars of the Bashar al-Assad regime. “It is why this criminal regime can stay in power for so long,” says Seif with anger in her voice. “Torture did not only begin in 2011, with the revolution, but also happened under the regime of his father, Hafez al-Assad. Even then, we were living in fear of being arrested.”
Seif has prepared and supervised several witnesses in the Koblenz trial. “It is extremely important for them to be able to tell their story, that they are listened to, that these crimes become visible to the whole world. But it is also important for all Syrians to see that after ten years without outside help, no justice through the UN, someone is listening to them for the first time.”
legal point of view, it is also very important, according to lawyer Seif, that all testimonies, as well as documents and photographs, are judged by a court of law. Cases against Assad are being prepared in several European countries, including larger fish than are currently on trial in Koblenz. “Those lawsuits can continue on this. The proof does not have to be re-supplied. This is just the beginning.”