BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors said Tuesday they have charged two suspected former members of Syria’s secret police with crimes against humanity in a case that human rights campaigners say marks a major step in the fight to hold to account Syrian officials responsible for atrocities in the country’s long-running civil war.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement that one of the men, identified only as Anwar R. due to privacy rules, is alleged to have abetted the abuse of political detainees at a prison he oversaw near Damascus, known as Branch 251, during the early stages of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“In the period between the end of April 2011 and the beginning of September 2012 at least 4,000 prisoners were subjected to brutal and massive torture by subordinates of the accused during their interrogations there,” German prosecutors said in a statement.”At least 58 people died as a result of the abuse.”
“As head of the investigation unit Anwar R. determined and oversaw working procedures in the prison and thereby also the use of systematic and brutal torture,” prosecutors added.
R., who is in his late 50s, has been indicted on counts of participating in crimes against humanity, rape, serious sexual abuse and 58 cases of murder.
The second suspect, identified as Eyad A., is accused of contributing to crimes against humanity by enabling the torture and imprisonment of at least 30 protesters in late 2011. The suspect, in his early 40s, was part of a unit that arrested people following a demonstration in the city of Douma and took them to the Branch 251 prison, where they were severely mistreated.
The men were allegedly members of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate until they left the country in late 2012 and early 2013. Both men later came to Germany, where they were arrested in February.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights called the case “an important step in the fight against impunity.”
The Berlin-based group, which helps victims of abuse in Syria and elsewhere, said the case was the result of a series of criminal complaints submitted over the past three years by almost 50 Syrian torture survivors, relatives, activists, and lawyers in Germany, Austria and Sweden.
Five of the torture victims plan to join the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law.
Patrick Kroker, a lawyer representing three of the victims, said his clients were politically active in Syria in some form, mostly by participating in protests against the Assad government or documenting them, before they were imprisoned and tortured at Branch 251.
“They hope this trial will achieve something beyond their individual cases,” Kroker told The Associated Press. “They want to show that these weren’t isolated incidents and that such crimes are still taking place today.”
The trial is expected to begin early next year in the western German city of Koblenz.
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