A former Syrian secret police colonel testified in a German court Monday that he was not involved in the torture of opponents of the Assad regime; even though, when he entered Germany, he confessed to the German authorities about his past. The false testimony of Anwar Ruslan will get him a reprieve, or an exoneration.
Ruslan’s trial is the first war crimes trial highlighting the atrocities of the Assad regime.
The German authorities are accusing Ruslan, now 57, of crimes against humanity, rape and murder. Ruslan was the head of the Al Khatib detention center; also known as Branch 251, and located near Damascus.
As a senior member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, his past prisoners are accusing him Ruslan of overseeing the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012. His torture resulted in the deaths of at least 58 people, according to the indictment.
His co-defendant, 43-year-old Eyad Al-Gharib, is accused of being part of a police squad that detained protesters and brought them back to Branch 251, where they were then tortured and murdered.
In his first statement since his trial opened in April, Anwar Ruslan told the Koblenz state court that he was not guilty of the accusations against him.
Ruslan denied he committed any crimes. Instead, he said, he was a secret supporter of the Syrian opposition. he even testified that he sympathized with the victims of torture.
Patrick Kroker, a lawyer for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights that is supporting several of the victims, called the defendant’s statement “grotesque.”
At least nine torture victims have presented themselves to the court in Koblenz as co-plaintiffs in the case. The court will call them, along with others, to testify as witnesses.
Kroker told AP that Ruslan had accused all witnesses of either lying or not having been under his responsibility.
AP could not reach Ruslan’s attorney for comment.
The two defendants left Syria for Germany before their arrest in February 2019. If convicted, Anwar Ruslan could face life imprisonment. The German authorities could sentence Eyad Al-Gharib up to 15 years in prison; if convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity.
The Koblenz regional court 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.
Many expect the trial to run for several months.