Syrian doctor charged with torture in Germany

Status: 01/19/2022 06:01 a.m

A trial against a Syrian doctor begins today in Frankfurt am Main. It’s about torture in a military hospital in Syria. SWR-Research shows: Doctors were systematically involved in acts of violence.

By Tina Fuchs and Rama Al-Hassan, SWR

The federal prosecutor accuses the accused Alaa M. of torture and the intentional killing of a prisoner. The 36-year-old is said to have “tortured prisoners and caused them serious physical and mental damage” in the Syrian city of Homs in 2011 and 2012.

Alaa M. was in medical training at the military hospital when, as a resident, he is said to have poured alcohol over the penis of patients and then set it on fire. He is said to have beaten, kicked, hung from the ceiling and whipped imprisoned patients and killed another one by injection – because they belonged to the opposition. He denied the allegations, a request from SWR left his lawyer unanswered.

“No Exception”

“Alaa M. is no exception in Syria,” says Annsar Shahhoud. The scientist researched acts of violence in the Syrian healthcare system. “Doctors have been systematically involved in medical violence since 2011. They oversee torture, killing and issue fake death certificates.”

The researcher spoke to doctors, nurses and hospital staff from Syria – and to victims. The victims were mostly people who took to the streets peacefully for freedom and human rights in 2011. The Syrian regime persecuted them, arrested them, had them disappeared without trial in one of the countless secret service prisons and tortured them.

“The victims tell us that the doctors came to the secret service prison every day. Some of the doctors chose their victims themselves. The prisoners were selected and taken to the hospitals – where most were killed, killed in the most horrific ways – all under medical supervision supervision,” says the researcher.

brought the medical profession into line

As early as the early 1980s, the Syrian Baath Party had brought the health system into line. The independent medical professional associations were dissolved, the new ones politicized – the usual procedure of dictatorships, says Shahhoud, a graduate of the Amsterdam Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Research. Those who belonged to the Baath Party made a career, received scholarships and support programs, and those who behaved loyally.

“The Ba’ath Party changed the training and produced doctors without any ethical foundation. From the start, doctors are made to work for the Syrian regime, they are the product of the Ba’ath regime. Instead of saying we work for health of the patients, it’s about working to protect the regime.”

Doctors were pressured

When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad feared for his power as the Syrian revolution grew stronger, he passed the anti-terror law in 2012: for example, anyone who provided medical care to people who had been beaten or shot during demonstrations was labeled a terrorist.

Houssam al-Nahhas, a Syrian doctor living in the US, analyzed the situation of Syrian health workers in 2011 and 2012. He summarized his report for the organization Physicians for Human Rights as follows: “Who gave medical attention to injured protesters , was considered an enemy of the regime – and risked being captured, tortured and killed. The regime criminalized medical workers who helped demonstrators because they wanted to suppress the opposition movement, to wipe out all resistance.”

The renowned medical journal “The Lancet” described Syria as the world’s most dangerous place for medical professionals. The United Nations classified the targeted attacks and bombing of hospitals in opposition areas as a strategic part of Syria’s warfare.

“Practice” on prisoners

A 2013 UN report on attacks on the medical sector in Syria mentions a military hospital in Homs. According to eyewitnesses, patients there were chained to beds and blindfolded. They hardly got anything to eat or drink and were mistreated.

It was the hospital where Alaa M., who is now on trial in Frankfurt, started his career as a military doctor in his mid-twenties. In view of the allegations against him, the scientist Shahhoud comes to the assessment: “Alaa M. used the opportunity for his training and gained experience. He was able to practice on the patients who were prisoners.”

For military doctors as well as for secret service people, there is impunity in Syria – a kind of license to torture. This law was introduced under Assad. The ruler himself studied medicine in Damascus and London. He is an ophthalmologist.

processing continues

The world’s first state torture trial against a former employee of a Syrian secret service ended on Thursday before the Koblenz Higher Regional Court. The court sentenced Anwar R. to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

In the Frankfurt trial, M. is now on trial, a man who, in contrast to the Koblenz defendants, is said to have actively tortured himself. The clarification of Syrian crimes before German courts will thus be continued, which many human rights activists and politicians had recently vehemently demanded.

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