January 13, 2022

I am a survivor, lifetime sentence for my torturer

This blog is from from Hussein Ghrer, a survivor of the Syrian regime’s torture. He is outside the German court where today, the first senior Syrian official was jailed for crimes against humanity.

The verdict is in. Today a German court convicted Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence colonel, for crimes against humanity. He was given a life sentence. For thousands of survivors like me, who were arbitrarily detained and tortured at the al-Khatib state security branch that he headed between 2011 and 2012 in Damascus, it’s a day we never thought we’d see.

I was detained twice by the Syrian regime for over three years and brutally tortured. First in 2011 in al-Khatib, and then in 2012 after a raid on the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression where I worked.

During the time that Raslan was in charge more than 4,000 people like me were tortured there, and at least 58 are believed to have died as a result. Today the court found him guilty of being the co-perpetrator of thousands of acts of torture, 27 murders and cases of sexual violence and other crimes. This verdict will not bring justice to all Syrians, but it is nevertheless a significant achievement.

While Anwar Raslan is just one of hundreds of members of Bashar al-Assad’s state-sponsored torture apparatus, his individual conviction carries a much wider meaning. It is a damning indictment of the systematic abuses by the Syrian regime as a whole.

Now any state that contemplates re-establishing ties with Assad, or forcing refugees to return to Syria, does so knowing the mass violence the Syrian regime is responsible for.

I experienced the horror of being forcibly disappeared in Syria and it is what drove me to leave my country. I fled because I did not want my family to experience again the horror of not knowing – did they kill him? Is he still alive?

Yet it is hard to celebrate this verdict when over 100,000 people are still forcibly disappeared in Syria. When Assad still detains and tortures men, women and children today. True justice can only be achieved when all those responsible for war crimes in Syria are held accountable and only with the freedom of all Syrian detainees.

When I decided to testify in this trial I couldn’t be sure what impact it would have, but I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to play a part, however small, in the struggle for justice. This is just the beginning of our struggle for more comprehensive accountability. I sincerely hope that today’s verdict will add pressure on the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, so senior officials within the Syrian regime can be prosecuted for their war crimes.

Please join me in calling for wider justice at the highest levels so we can build a different future for Syria. Share your message of solidarity for all the Syrian survivors who bravely testified over the past two years on Twitter and Facebook.

The Syria Campaign’s press release on today’s verdict is here.