Canada expels Iran’s former deputy interior minister

By Stewart Bell  Global News, Posted March 20, 2024 3:17 pm

Canada’s immigration tribunal ordered the deportation Wednesday of Iran’s former deputy interior minister.

Seyed Salman Samani is the second senior member of the Iranian regime to face removal from Canada under sanctions adopted in 2022.

The Immigration and Refugee Board decision followed a deportation order issued Feb. 2 against Majid Iranmanesh, a technology advisor to Iran’s vice-president.

A third alleged top Iranian official caught in Canada has also been sent for removal proceedings.

In that case, however, the IRB has refused to identify him, and has opted to hold his hearings behind closed doors, apparently because he is claiming to be a refugee.

Global News applied to make the proceedings open to the public, but the IRB denied the request in a ruling Tuesday that did not explain why it felt banning the press from the case was justified.

Seyed Salman Samani, when he was spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Interior.
Seyed Salman Samani, when he was spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Interior.

Another nine suspected senior Iranian officials are similarly being brought before the refugee board for deportation hearings.

All are living in Canada but are being expelled after Iran’s morality police detained and killed Mahsa Amini for showing her hair in public.

Her death set off protests that were brutally crushed by Iranian security forces.

Canada responded by designating Iran as a regime engaged in “terrorism and systematic and gross human rights violations.”

The policy effectively barred tens of thousands of Iranian officials and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp members from Canada.

The IRB ordered the deportation of Seyed Salman Samani on Wednesday.
The IRB ordered the deportation of Seyed Salman Samani on Wednesday. Immigration and Refugee Board

Iranian Canadians have long complained that regime officials are entering Canada, and sometimes providing support to Tehran.

In a social media post on Feb. 21, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the government had refused the permanent residency application of Eshagh Ghalibaf.

Court documents show that Eshagh Ghalibaf had applied to immigrate to Canada.

His father, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, is Iran’s parliamentary speaker and a former senior commander in the Revolutionary Guard.

Passport of Eshagh Ghalibaf, who tried to immigrate to Canada.
Passport of Eshagh Ghalibaf, who tried to immigrate to Canada. Federal Court

Samani, 43, entered Canada using a visitor visa issued in Ankara, Turkey. But after he arrived, he faced questions about his past role in the regime, which he quit in August 2021.

At his hearing in February, he said he was unaware his boss, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, had ordered police to kill protesters in 2019.

He denied any involvement in human rights abuses, and insisted he was not aware the Iranian regime was engaged in arbitrary arrest, torture and killings.

But immigration enforcement officials argued Samani held three “critical positions” in the Interior Ministry.

As the ministry spokesperson, he played a role in defending the regime over the role of its security forces in the deaths of 1,500 protesters, the officials argued.

“As a spokesperson, Mr. Samani would have served as a conduit for state propaganda, responsible for disseminating information that aligned with the government narrative and suppressing any dissenting views,” they said.

On Wednesday, IRB Member Kirk Dickenson upheld the government’s case, ruling Samani exercised “significant influence on the government or Iran,” and was therefore inadmissible to Canada.

The date of his removal was not disclosed.

The Canada Border Services Agency said 86 investigations had been launched into suspected senior Iranian regime members living in Canada.

Forty investigations had been closed because the individuals in question were either not in Canada or were not deemed to be senior Iranian officials.

So far the CBSA has identified a dozen “well-founded” cases of senior regime members, but only three have been sent to the IRB to date.

Eighty-two visas were also cancelled by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada under the sanctions. The figures are as of Feb. 16, 2024.

Romania Iran Protest
Woman holds image of Mahsa Amini during a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Vadim Ghirda/AP

But figures also show the government is struggling to deport those who have been found inadmissible to Canada on national security grounds.

Since 2018, the CBSA has issued 675 reports alleging foreign nationals should be deported for reasons of national security. But during that same time, only 44 were removed from the country.

That is less than seven per cent.

So far in 2024, the CBSA has prepared 33 inadmissibility reports for national security, but has conducted only a single removal, according to the figures.

Map of Iran, with capital, Tehran. (AP Photo)
Map of Iran, with capital, Tehran. (AP Photo).

Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran 12 years ago, citing the regime’s rights abuses, nuclear program and support for international terrorism.

Iran’s IRGC Quds Force finances, trains and arms groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which conducted the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

The IRGC also shot down a passenger plane in 2020, killing 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents in what the courts have ruled was an act of terrorism.

Iran is also considered one of the hostile foreign governments, along with Russia and China, that engage in foreign interference in Canada.

Dominic Ongwen: Ugandan warlord’s LRA victims awarded share of £56m

By Anna Holligan
BBC News, The Hague

Victims of Ugandan warlord Dominic Ongwen have been awarded more than €52m ($56m; £44.5m) by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The order covers almost 50,000 people, including former child soldiers and children born out of rapes and forced marriages.

Ongwen was a ruthless rebel commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

He is currently serving a 25-year prison term in Norway for multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He was originally abducted as a child and forced to join the LRA but went on to become one of the leaders of the notorious rebel group. During his trial, his argument that he should also be treated as a victim was rejected by the court.

The crimes were committed by his rebel fighters in northern Uganda in the early 2000s.

Warning: This story contains details that some people may find upsetting

As part of the extensive compensation package, everyone who suffered, directly or otherwise, as a result of what Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt described as Ongwen’s “unimaginable atrocities” will be awarded €750 ($812; £642).

Judge Schmitt described physical, moral, material, community and transgenerational harm, and explained the remainder of the $56m would constitute collective reparations, to be invested in projects designed to rehabilitate and rebuild broken lives.

The LRA was formed in the late 1980s in Uganda, where it said its goal was to install a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

It was eventually forced out of the country in 2005.

As a reminder of the many ways in which communities were affected by the LRA, an extensive list of the ruthless acts committed by Ongwen was read out during the hearing.

ICC Dominic Ongwen appears by video link for Wednesday's hearingPhoto: ICC Dominic Ongwen appeared by video link for Wednesday's hearing

These included a catalogue of harrowing sexual and gender-based crimes that came to characterise Ongwen’s campaign of terror.

Judge Schmitt recounted that soldiers had raped a woman with a stick used for cooking while her husband was forced to watch, babies were thrown into bushes and left to perish because their crying made it hard for new mothers to carry looted goods, women and girls were “distributed” to soldiers and kept as sexual slaves – many forced to bear children after rape or forced marriage.

Children kidnapped and trained to be child soldiers were also among the victims – some were forced to kill others, as lessons to anyone who considered attempting to escape.

“Tens of thousands of individuals suffered tremendous harm due to the unimaginable atrocities committed,” as rebel fighters led by Ongwen attacked four camps for displaced people in northern Uganda, said Judge Schmitt.

Entire communities and families witnessed the attacks, after which people had to walk through villages strewn with dead bodies.

The court acknowledged it would take time before any payments were actually distributed and that not all victims would receive the amount at the same time – priority would be given to the most vulnerable people with the greatest need.

Ongwen has been declared indigent so the money will come from the Trust Fund for Victims.

The trust relies on voluntary contributions from ICC member states and to a lesser extent other public and private donors.

The trust’s mandate is to fulfil reparation orders and provide victims with physical and psychosocial rehabilitation or support.

During the hearing, the judge said the trust didn’t currently have enough to cover the full $56m reparations, and urged countries, organisations, corporations and private individuals to step up and support its mission.

A compensation plan must be submitted to the ICC by September 2024.

The ICC, located in the Dutch city of The Hague, was set up to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide.

The ICC believes reparations symbolise and promote hope and resilience within war-ravaged communities and serve as evidence of the court’s commitment to restorative justice.

Hamid Nouri Sentenced to Life Imprisonment by Swedish Court

A Swedish Court of Appeals on December 19, 2023, upheld the life sentence of former Assistant prosecutor at Gohardasht Prison, Hamid Nouri, for his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners.

Hamid Nouri was sentenced to life in prison a year earlier on July 15, 2022 by a Swedish court. about a year later on December 19, 2023 this sentence was upheld by an appeal court.

As the assistant to the deputy prosecutor, Nouri had an important role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners between July and September of 1988.

On November 9, 2019, Nouri was arrested upon arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport.

At least 60 witnesses and 12 experts testified in his trial.

In an interview, a former Iranian Judge, who was the head of the so-called Death Committee at that time, justified these atrocities as “a necessary action against conspirators’ plots.”

In 1988, by the direct order of Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, a committee (later known as the Death Committee), including current President Ebrahim Raisi, was established to execute thousands of political prisoners.

Germany prosecutes ex-Nazi camp guard aged 98

By Laurence Peter from BBC News
Published on September 1, 2023

German prosecutors have charged a 98-year-old man with complicity in the murder of some 3,300 people at a Nazi concentration camp in World War Two.

The man, not yet named, was an adolescent when he served as a guard at Sachsenhausen between July 1943 and February 1945, the indictment says.

He allegedly assisted in the “cruel and insidious” mass killing of inmates.

Since 2011, Germany has prosecuted ex-Nazis for complicity – not only for murder or torture as individuals.

But it is a race against time, as those indicted have been very old and some have died before going on trial.

The Nazi SS imprisoned more than 200,000 people at Sachsenhausen, including political prisoners, Jews, captured Soviet soldiers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies).

Tens of thousands of inmates died from starvation, forced labour, medical experiments and murder by the SS. The camp was built north of Berlin in 1936.

In the latest prosecution, the case will be handled by a juvenile court, given that the man was an adolescent at the time of the crimes. He now lives in Main-Kinzig, a rural district in central Germany.

Last year, a 101-year-old, Josef Schütz, was found guilty of assisting in mass murder at Sachsenhausen. He was given a five-year prison sentence, but died in April this year, still free while awaiting the outcome of an appeal.

Former Nazi camp secretary found guilty of complicity in 10,500 murders

Article by The Guardian, Kate Connolly, published on Dec, 20 2022

Irmgard Furchner, 97, who worked at Stutthof concentration camp during the second world war, is given a two-year suspended sentence

Irmgard Furchner at the trial in Itzehoe in October. Photograph: Reuters

A 97-year-old former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp has been found guilty of complicity in the murder of more than 10,500 people imprisoned there, and handed a two-year suspended sentence.

Irmgard Furchner, who has been on trial in the northern German town of Itzehoe for more than a year, spoke to the court on one occasion earlier this month to say she was sorry for what had happened, but stopped short of admitting her guilt.

The start of her trial was delayed in September 2021 when she briefly went on the run. Having failed to turn up at court, she was found by police hours later on the outskirts of Hamburg, after which she was held in custody for five days and fitted with an electronic wrist tag.

Furchner had worked at the Stutthof camp between 1943 and 1945 as a secretary to the camp commandant, Paul-Werner Hoppe, when she was 18 and 19. She was tried in a juvenile court owing to her age at the time the crimes were committed.

She is the first civilian woman in Germany to have been held responsible for crimes committed in a Nazi concentration camp.

The judge, Dominik Gross, said the trial would be “one of the worldwide last criminal trials related to crimes of the Nazi era” and took the unusual step of allowing the proceedings to be recorded for “historical purposes”.

The trial, which took place over 40 days of sessions of about two hours’ duration due to the accused’s advanced age, heard from 30 survivors and relatives of prisoners of Stutthof from the US, France, Austria and the Baltic states.

It also heard from historical experts who gave details of the daily life at Stutthof and the role Furchner played in assisting the bureaucratic processing of prisoners, as well as information about the treatment of prisoners, including torture methods and the procedures involved in the systematic murder of thousands of them, to which they said she had been privy.

Many prisoners were left to starve and freeze in the open air. An estimated 63,000 to 65,000 people, about 28,000 of whom were Jewish, were murdered at Stutthof, mostly in gas chambers, some by a shot to the back of the neck, for which the prison had a specially built facility.

One of the most memorable testimonies was that of 84-year-old Josef Salomonovic, who survived Stutthof and gave evidence in December 2021 after travelling to the court from his home in the Czech Republic. His father, Erich, had been executed in Stutthof.

Salomonovic held up a photograph of his father and addressed Furchner directly. Outside the courtroom, he said he had wanted to confront her with the image of his father. “She is indirectly guilty, even if she was only sitting in the office,” he said.

Josef Salomonovic in the witness stand in the courtroom at the trial of Irmgard Furchner (pictured in the background) in Itzehoe, Germany. Photograph: Getty Images

During the trial, court officials including the judge visited the preserved site of Stutthof, near Gdansk, Poland, in what was then territory that had been annexed by Germany. There they saw for themselves the proximity of Furchner’s desk – in the office she shared with other secretaries – to the workings of the camp’s death machinery, including gas chambers, a crematorium and a gallows.

They concluded that the view she had from her window, her walk to and from the office, along with the orders she was instructed to process on her typewriter and via telephone, were enough for her to have had sufficient insight into and have therefore actively participated in what was going on in the camp.

During the trial, Furchner conversed regularly with the judge through her lawyer, but said little. She typically was brought to court in an ambulance flanked by doctors, wearing sunglasses and a face mask and in a wheelchair.

Her lawyer, Wolfgang Molkentin, said his client did not deny the crimes that had taken place in Stutthof, but denied having been guilty of them herself.

Reacting to the verdict, Manfred Goldberg, 92, who was deported to Stutthof in August 1944 and spent more than eight months there as a slave worker before being sent on a death march just days before the war ended, and finally being liberated in Germany in May 1945, said he could not believe that Furchner did not know what was happening where she worked.

“It is my belief that it would have been impossible for Furchner not to have known what was going on there, as she claims. Everything was documented and progress reports, including how much human hair had been harvested, sent to her office,” he said.

Goldberg, who later settled in the UK where he married and had children, said the importance of the trial was in letting the world know “that there is no limitation of time for crimes of such cruelty or magnitude”, but he was disappointed at the two-year suspended sentence.

“This appears to me to be a mistake. No one in their right mind would send a 97-year-old to prison, but the sentence should reflect the severity of the crimes. If a shoplifter is sentenced to two years, how can it be that someone convicted for complicity in 10,000 murders is given the same sentence?”

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said the trial had shown that the passage of time was “no barrier to justice when it comes to those involved in perpetrating the worst crimes mankind has ever seen.

“Stutthof was infamous for its cruelty and suffering … the testimony shared by survivors during this trial has been harrowing and their bravery in reliving such horrific memories must be commended.”

A Swedish court has sentenced an Iranian Official to life in prison in a historic trial.

Hamid Noury (Abbasi), 61, was a judicial official in the early years of the inception of Islamic Republic of Iran. He was directly linked to Mass executions of 1988 in Gohardasht prison, and sentenced to life in a historic trial by a Swedish court. 

The Trial is of historic significance, as it is the first time an Islamic Republic’s official is held accountable internationally for atrocities committed locally and the violation of international law. 

Hamid Noury worked as Assistant to the deputy prosecutor in Evin Prisons in Tehran and Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison in Karaj From 1982 to 1991. At the time of  the mass executions of the summer of 1988, in which thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were executed by the judiciary of the Islamic Republic, he was one of the effective members of the execution committee in Gohardasht prison during this massacre.

Historic Significance of the Trial for Universal Jurisdiction

Today on Thursday July 14, 2022, in a historic sentence, the final verdict was issued by Judge Tomas Zander in the Swedish court, and Hamid Noury was sentenced to life in prison for “Mass execution and Torture of political prisoners.”

Hamid Noury was arrested on November 9, 2019 during a trip to Sweden at Stockholm Airport on charges of “premeditated murder, crime against international law and war crimes” for direct role in a serious and widespread human rights violation.

Hamid Noury’s trial began in 2021, and over many sessions witnesses have testified to his role in giving death sentences and walking prisoners to their execution sites. 

Hamid Noury’s Trial is remarkable for many reasons. Most importantly, It is the first time an Iranian official is sentenced in a foreign court for violations of International Law. 

Secondly, the crimes took place about 34 years ago and there has been no site access for investigations and NGO’s Private investigations were submitted for the trial, also the trial largely depended on heart wrenching testimonies of witnesses. 

Thirdly, this was an international effort for justice, as witnesses and activists from across the world set foot forward to testify against Noury’s crimes, in multiple trials that took place over a year. In this rare international effort for justice, the court briefly relocated to Albania to accommodate witnesses that could not be present in sweden. 

This Trial is of historic significance not just for Iranians but for everyone seeking international justice, as it brings hope to possible prosecution of other perpetrators that have committed atrocious crimes years ago and who enjoy impunity locally. 

First ICC trial addressing Darfur war crimes gets underway

Story by Reuters, Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE – The first trial addressing atrocities in Darfur opens at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, nearly 20 years after the Sudanese region was racked by widespread violence that left hundreds of thousands dead.

Suspected former Janjaweed militia leader Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman faces 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including persecution, murder, rape and torture.

“(Tuesday) is a momentous day for victims and survivors in Darfur who never stopped fighting to see the day the cycle of impunity is broken,” Sudanese human rights lawyer Mossaad Mohamed Ali of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said in a statement.

Prosecutors accuse the septuagenarian Abd-Al-Rahman, whom they say was also known as Ali Kushayb, of being a senior commander of thousands of pro-government Janjaweed fighters during the 2003-2004 height of the Darfur conflict.

Abd-Al-Rahman denies the charges. During earlier court appearances he and his lawyer argued that he was the victim of mistaken identity and that he was not educated enough to understand the orders he carried out could result in war crimes.

The alleged Janjaweed leader voluntarily surrendered to The Hague-based court in June 2020 after 13 years on the run.

The trial comes amid an upsurge in what humanitarian groups say is inter-communal violence in Darfur since the end of the United Nations and African Union mission there.

Darfur’s conflict first erupted when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s government, which responded with a counter-insurgency.

Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, to crush the revolt, unleashing a wave of violence that Washington and some activists said amounted to genocide.

The United Nations estimates 300,000 people were killed and more than 2 million driven from their homes.

Former Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who faces ICC charges of orchestrating genocide and other atrocities in Darfur, was deposed during a popular uprising in 2019 and remains in prison in Khartoum.

According to the charges, militias under Abd-Al-Rahman led attacks on towns and villages. He has been implicated in more than 130 murders and the forcing of tens of thousands of mainly Fur civilians from their homes.

Trials at the ICC typically take at least several years before judges reach a verdict.

Canada must not be a safe haven for former IRGC commanders 

HRA alongside seven Human Rights organizations has published an open letter to the Canadian government regarding the travel of former IRGC commander and human rights violator, Morteza Talaie.

Open Letter: Canada must not be a safe haven for former IRGC commanders 

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, share serious concerns regarding known rights violator, Morteza Talaie’s recent travel to Canada. We urge the Canadian government to take immediate action to uphold its stated commitment to human rights and ensure that impunity at home, does not mean impunity abroad. Allowing Morteza Talaei to freely enter Canada sends a dangerous message; a message that is an affront to Iranians who have themselves sought refuge in Canada. 

Since cutting diplomatic ties with Iran in 2013,  many Iranians continue to face challenges in obtaining visas to Canada, which is seemingly not the case for the former IRGC commander. When asked how Talaei’s presence in Canada made them feel, one Iranian said, “I feel betrayed by the Canadian government for allowing those that suppressed us in Iran to easily enter the country I now call home.” 

In 2017, Canada passed the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, (Global Magnitsky legislation) designed to designate foreign officials complicit in, among other things, gross violations of human rights. The act is in place, in part, to protect refugees from foreign nationals deemed to be a threat to safety and security. We call on the Canadian government to investigate Morteza Talaei, in particular for, “gross violations of internationally-recognized human rights against individuals in any foreign state who seek to obtain, exercise, defend or promote internationally-recognized human rights and freedoms…” 

Human rights organizations have documented seemingly endless violations stemming from Talaei’s relentless intolerance and brutality. As a former Tehran police chief, Talaei commanded a force notorious for mass arrests, beatings, and torture. Talaei himself is known to have orchestrated widespread suppression of peaceful protesters including student protesters. He was police chief at the time, Iranian Canadian citizen, Zahra Kazemi, was tortured, ultimately culminating in her death. The investigation of her death was said to be handled by Tehran’s police. Talaei is also the founder of what some call Tehran’s “hijab police,” a force committed to combating what he called ‘manifestations of indecency’ referring to women he deemed indecently covered. In addition, as a former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, an entity widely sanctioned for serious human rights abuses, his brutality runs deep. 

The Prime Minister has declared Canada to be a safe haven to “those fleeing persecution, terror, and war” a place where “all are welcome.” A safe haven for those persecuted must not allow individuals like Morteza Talaei to enter freely. Human rights violators must not be included in the Prime Minister’s “everyone is welcome” campaign. 


The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran 

Association for The Human Rights of The Azerbaijani People In Iran (AHRAZ)

Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA)

Impact Iran 

Iran Human Rights

Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva (KMMK-G)

Siamak Pourzand Foundation (SPF)

Together against the death penalty (ECPM)

German court finds Syrian colonel guilty of crimes against humanity

By Jenny Hill
BBC News Koblenz, Germany

A German court has sentenced a Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity in a historic trial.

Anwar Raslan, 58, was linked to the torture of over 4,000 people in Syria’s civil war in a jail known as “Hell on Earth”.

The trial in Koblenz is the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet praised the conviction as a “landmark leap forward” in the pursuit of truth.

It’s hard to imagine what the men and women incarcerated in Syria’s notorious Al-Khatib prison had to endure.

At the heart of it, Raslan was accused of being a high-ranking security service officer under President Bashar al-Assad as mass anti-government protests were violently crushed in 2011.

Syrian campaigner of the Caesar Families Association Yasmen Almashan holds pictures of victims of the Syrian regime as she and others wait outside the courthouse where former Syrian intelligence officer Anwar Raslan is on trial in Koblenz, western Germany on January 13, 2022
Syrians stood outside the court in Koblenz clutching photos of victims of the civil war

Many protesters and others suspected of opposing the regime were rounded up and detained in the Al-Khatib facility in Damascus where, prosecutors say, Mr Raslan directed operations.

He was charged with 58 murders as well as rape and sexual assault, and the torture of at least 4,000 people held there between 2011 and 2012.

The ruling is significant, especially for those who survived Al-Khatib and gave evidence during the trial. A criminal court has now formally acknowledged that crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own citizens.

Universal jurisdiction

Raslan was arrested in Germany in 2019 having successfully sought asylum there. He denied all the charges against him, saying he had nothing to do with the mistreatment of prisoners and that he actually tried to help some detainees.

Syrian defendant Anwar Raslan arrives at court for an unprecedented trial on state-sponsored torture in Syria, on April 23, 2020 at court in Koblenz, western Germany
The court in Koblenz ruled that Anwar Raslan’s face should not be recognisable in media coverage

His trial was extraordinary for several reasons. It was unprecedented in taking on Syria’s state-led torture and it was prompted by the arrival in Germany of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who’d fled their own country.

Many of the almost 800,000 Syrians who now live in Germany brought with them terrible stories of what happened to those who opposed the Assad regime, and German human rights lawyers took up their cause, using the principle of universal jurisdiction to bring the case to court. This allows serious crimes committed in one country to be tried elsewhere.

Wolfgang Kaleck, head of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights which has led the case, says it’s hard to talk about justice given that hundreds of thousands of people have been tortured and tens of thousands have died as a result.Wolfgang KaleckBBC International criminal justice, universal jurisdiction always comes too late and it’s never enough but… I would say it’s an important step forward Wolfgang Kaleck
European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights

But perhaps most importantly the trial gave a voice to those whom the Assad regime tried to silence. Fifty survivors have given evidence to the court in Koblenz; 24 are co-plaintiffs in the case.

Screams of torture

Their stories are horrifying. The court heard how detainees were beaten and doused in cold water. Others were raped or hung from the ceiling for hours on end. Torturers tore out their fingernails and administered electric shocks.

One survivor told me that he could hear the screams of people being tortured all day, every day. Another that his attackers had used special “tools’ and that they had appeared to enjoy what they were doing.

Raslan now faces life in prison and prosecutors sought to bar any possibility of probation after 15 years.

Prosecutors were encouraged by the conviction last year of another Syrian official as part of the same trial. Eyad-al-Gharib, who helped to arrest protesters who were later tortured and killed, was jailed for four and a half years for complicity in crimes against humanity.

Lawyers are preparing cases against a number of other suspects but, ultimately, they’d like to bring to justice those right at the top of the chain of command.

Bashar al-Assad has indicated that he’s following the trial, but he and his government have repeatedly denied accusations of torturing or forcibly “disappearing” hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.

This trial serves another purpose too: to build a body of evidence for use in future proceedings. In addition to witness testimonies, prosecutors in Koblenz have relied on the “Caesar files” – gruesome photographs smuggled out of Syria by a regime whistleblower which show the dead bodies of thousands of people who are believed to have died in detention facilities – many of whom appear to have been tortured.

And it’s a reminder of the ongoing plight of many Syrians.

Attorney Patrick Kroker (C) and co-plaintiffs Wassim Mukdad (L) and Hussein Ghrer (R) answer journalists' questions outside the courtroom during a break in a trial against two Syrian defendants accused of state-sponsored torture in Syria, on April 23, 2020 in Koblenz
Image caption,Twenty-four survivors were co-plaintiffs in the case including Wassim Mukdad (L) and Hussein Ghrer (R)

Wassim Mukdad, who was first detained in 2011 and now lives in Germany, gave evidence to the trial and returned to the court for the verdict.

“For me, this is the first step in a very long way towards justice,” he has told the BBC.

There are many stories that have not been heard, he says: “Either because they are still detained now – while we’re talking, they’re suffering torture and horrible situations in the detention centres. Or because they were murdered.”

And then, he adds, there were those who died as they tried to reach Europe, drowning at sea or freezing on Europe’s borders.

Nazi trial: 100-year-old SS guard in court in Germany

Published: 7 October by BBC

A 100-year-old former security guard of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp appears in the courtroom before his trial at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in Brandenburg, Germany, 7 October 2021
Image caption,Josef S, who was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942, appears in court

Seventy-six years after the end of World War Two, a former concentration camp guard has gone on trial for assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at Sachsenhausen near Berlin.

Josef S is accused of complicity in the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war and the murder of others with Zyklon B gas.

Time is running out for Nazi-era criminals to face justice and he is the oldest defendant so far to stand trial.

It was only in recent years that lower-ranking Nazis were brought to trial.

Ten years ago, the conviction of former SS guard John Demjanjuk set a precedent enabling prosecutors to charge people for aiding and abetting Nazi crimes in World War Two. Until then, direct participation in murder had to be proven.

Identified as Josef S, because of German privacy laws, the defendant was led into a specially adapted sports hall at a prison in Brandenburg an der Havel, where the trial began amid strict security.

He arrived outside the court in a wheelchair, clutching a briefcase, and entered with the aid of a walking frame. He shielded his face with a blue file to stop photographers getting a view.

Josef S has lived in the Brandenburg area for years, reportedly as a locksmith, and has not spoken publicly about the trial.

His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told the court that the defendant would make no comment at the trial on the allegations against him. He would, however, speak about his personal circumstances at Friday’s hearing.

Josef S was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942. Now almost 101, he is considered able to appear in court for up to two and half hours a day. The trial is due to continue until January.

Public prosecutor Cyrill Klement told the court of the systematic killings at Sachsenhausen between 1941 and 1945. “The defendant supported this knowingly and willingly – at least by conscientiously carrying out guard duty, which was perfectly integrated into the killing regime.”

Tens of thousands of people died at the camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, including resistance fighters, Jews, political opponents, homosexuals and prisoners of war.

A gas chamber was installed at Sachsenhausen in 1943 and 3,000 people were massacred at the camp as the war drew to a close because they were “unfit to march”. The prosecutor gave details of mass shootings and murders by gas, as well as through disease and exhaustion.

Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum holds a picture in the courtroom during a trial against a 100-year-old former security guard of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in Brandenburg, Germany, October 7, 2021
,Leon Schwarzbaum survived Sachsenhausen as well as Auschwitz and Buchenwald

Thursday’s trial was especially important for 17 co-plaintiffs, who include survivors of Sachsenhausen.

Christoffel Heijer was six years old when he last saw his father: Johan Hendrik Heijer was one of 71 Dutch resistance fighters shot dead at the camp.

“Murder isn’t destiny; it’s not a crime that can be legally erased by time,” he told Berliner Zeitung.

Leon Schwarzenbaum, who is a 100-year-old survivor of Sachsenhausen, said this was the “last trial for my friends and acquaintances and my loved ones who were murdered” and he hoped it would end in a final conviction.

There was widespread frustration at Josef S’s refusal to give evidence.

“For the survivors this is yet another rejection, just like it was in the camp. You were vermin,” said Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee.

Thomas Walther, the lawyer acting for the co-plaintiffs, said he was not surprised but hoped he would change his mind.

Most Nazi camp guards will not face trial.

Bruno Dey holds a folder in front of his face in court on 23 July 2020
Image caption,Nazi SS guard Bruno Dey was convicted last year of complicity in 5,000 murders

There were 3,000 guards at Stutthof concentration camp alone, and only 50 were convicted. Bruno Dey was convicted of complicity in mass murder there last year and given a suspended sentence,

Only last week, a Nazi secretary at the Stutthof camp, Irmgard Furchner, was due to go on trial north of Hamburg but escaped from a nursing home hours beforehand.

She was eventually caught in Hamburg and her trial was rescheduled for 19 October. She was released from custody earlier this week.