On January 13, 2022, the Koblenz trial came to an official end. Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, was served a life sentence. Raslan, 58, was found guilty of 27 counts of rape, torture, murder, and sexual assault while serving at the Al-Khatib detention center near Damascus, also known as Branch 251; al-Khatib center is called by its survivors as “hell on earth.” Raslan’s verdict came nearly one year after Eyad al-Gharib, another officer, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in the same trial.
The trial started in April 2020, and after more than a hundred court sessions were held, overseen by five federal judges and supported by one hundred witnesses, the court proved that Anwar Raslan committed several crimes against humanity. During the early phases of the trial, the MENA Prison Forum worked in cooperation with one of its researchers and writers, Jaber Baker, on collecting testimonies from former detainees of Branch 251. While some of them were tortured directly by Anwar Raslan, others were not. The latter expressed their wish to put their own torturers on trial and to see them behind bars as well. Moreover, though the former detainees in general welcomed the trial, they wished the trial could have happened in Arabic and be based where they were tortured: in Syria.
However, human rights defenders, activists, and media outlets have described the trial of Raslan and al-Gharib as a landmark and a first step against the impunity of other members of the Syrian regime, including Bashar al-Assad himself. The verdict is in a way a primary acknowledgment of the brutalities and atrocities of the fifty-year ruling of the Ba’ath regime in Syria. It also gives some hope of justice and accountability to victims and survivors of torture, together with families whose relatives were killed, are in prison, or have been forcibly disappeared. Wafaa Mustafa, a Syrian journalist, activist, and former detainee, tweeted that "we need to save those who can still be saved. This is what we fought for 10 years ago: freedom, justice, and state of law."
Against this backdrop, the MENA Prison Forum will host on January 27, 2022 an online talk by lawyer and podcaster Fritz Streiff to speak about his podcast Branch 251. The podcast helped not only to translate the trial into both Arabic and English but also to give voice to victims and survivors who were not able to be present in Germany during the trial. The talk will also think about the coming steps that lawyers and human rights activists can take to turn the Koblenz trial into an ongoing legacy of justice and accountability for crimes committed in Syria, instead of considering the January 13 verdict as an end to this process.