Germany charged two alleged former Syrian secret service officers with participating in crimes against humanity, in what rights activists said Tuesday (October 29th) would be the first trial worldwide over state-sponsored torture in Syria, AFP reported.
Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib were arrested in February together with a third suspect in France in a co-ordinated operation by German and French police, the federal prosecutor's office in the German city of Karlsruhe said.
Raslan, who allegedly led an investigative unit with its own prison in the Damascus area targeting members of the Syrian opposition, is "suspected of complicity in crimes against humanity" in charges filed October 22nd, the prosecutors said in a statement.
"In this context he is also accused of murder in 58 cases, rape and aggravated sexual assault" in the jail where more than 4,000 prisoners suffered "brutal and massive torture" from April 2011 to September 2012.
Gharib, a former officer who had manned checkpoints and hunted protesters, allegedly aided and abetted the abduction and torture of at least 30 people in the autumn of 2011.
In the town of Douma at the time, security authorities used force to break up an anti-government rally. Gharib is believed to have helped capture fleeing demonstrators and detain them in the prison headed by Raslan.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 60,000 people have died from torture or harsh conditions in regime custody since the conflict began.
"The Syrian secret services played a significant role in this, with the aim of stopping the protest movement as soon as possible and cowing the population," it said.
Several other legal cases are now pending against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Germany.
The Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights has also joined with torture survivors to file criminal complaints against 10 high-ranking Syrian officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Welcoming Tuesday's charges, the ECCHR said: "The first trial worldwide about state torture in Syria is expected to start in Germany in early 2020 -- an important step in the fight against impunity."