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German court finds former Syrian secret police chief guilty of crimes against humanity

A FORMER Syrian secret police officer was convicted by a German court yesterday of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

Anwar Raslan is the highest-ranking Syrian official so far convicted of the charge in a trial held under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” whereby a court can rule on crimes committed in other countries. He is among 800,000 Syrian refugees in Germany who fled the country’s civil war.

The Koblenz state court concluded that the defendant was in charge of interrogations at a facility in the Syrian city of Douma known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where suspected opposition protesters were detained.

The court sentenced the 58-year-old to life in prison. His lawyers had asked judges last week to acquit their client, claiming that he never personally tortured anybody and that he defected in late 2012, shortly after the beginning of the jihadist uprising.

“This day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime’s crimes,” said Ruham Hawash, a survivor of Branch 251 who testified in the trial.

“This verdict is only a beginning and we have a long way to go — but for us affected people, this trial and today’s ruling are a first step towards freedom, dignity and justice,” she said.

German prosecutors alleged that Mr Raslan supervised the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people.

Judges ruled that there was evidence to hold him responsible for 27 deaths.

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