Syrian doctor suspected of crimes against humanity faces German court

Suspected of crimes against humanity, including torturing prisoners at military hospitals in Syria, a Syrian doctor attended the first day of his trial in Germany on Wednesday in the second such case over alleged state-backed torture in Syria's conflict, Reuters reported.

Following last week's breakthrough ruling of a German court sentencing a Syrian former intelligence officer to life behind bars for crimes against humanity, the trial of the 36-year-old doctor started at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main.

The defendant, identified as Alaa M. (name withheld under German privacy laws), is accused of torturing opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while working as a doctor at a military prison and hospitals in Homs and Damascus in 2011 and 2012.

So far the government of Bashar Al-Assad had denied accusations of having tortured prisoners.

Arriving in Germany in 2015 to work as a doctor, Alaa M. was arrested in June 2020. Since then has been in pre-trial detention.

Resorting to universal jurisdiction laws that allow them to seek trials for suspects in crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world, German prosecutors have charged the defendant with 18 cases of torture. They also said that he had killed one of the prisoners. In one of the cases, the defendant is accused of carrying out a bone fracture correction surgery without sufficient anaesthesia.

Two cases put him in the shade of suspicion of having deprived two prisoners of their reproductive capacity.

Other torture methods that prosecutors say he used against detained civilians include dousing the genitals of a teenage boy with alcohol at Homs military hospital and igniting them with a lighter.

The doctor is believed to have worked at the Mezzeh 601 military hospital in Damascus whose morgues and courtyard, according to Human Rights Watch, were seen in a cache of photographs. The images depicted the scale of state-sponsored torture against civilians and were smuggled abroad by a government photographer known as Caesar.

Antonia Klein, a legal adviser at the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which is supporting a plaintiff in the case, said sexual violence as a crime against humanity would play an important role in the trial.

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