Skip to main content

German court convicts ex-Syrian regime officer in historic case

Eyad al-Gharib, a former low-ranking officer in Syria's intelligence services, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
Sedra Alshehabi stands with a placard with the picture of her father Ali and a text reading 'First step but my father and 130000 are still in jail' after the verdict in the trail of Syrian defendant Eyad al-Gharib, accused of crimes against humanity in the first trial of its kind to emerge from the Syrian conflict on February 24, 2021 in Koblenz, western Germany. - Eyad al-Gharib, 44, former Syrian intelligence service agent was sentenced to four and a half years in jail for complicity in crimes against hum

A court in Germany has convicted a former member of Syria’s security services of crimes against humanity in a landmark trial seen as the first step in holding the regime of President Bashar al-Assad accountable for state-sponsored torture. 

Eyad al-Gharib, 44, was sentenced on Tuesday to four and a half years in prison. Prosecutors at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court accused the former colonel of helping arrest and transport at least 30 pro-democracy protesters to a notorious military intelligence prison in Damascus, known as Branch 251, in 2011. 

Gharib’s state-appointed lawyers said their client, who was a low-ranking officer in Syria’s powerful General Intelligence Directorate, was acting under duress and feared punishment from his superiors for failing to carry out their orders. His defense team pointed out that Gharib defected from the regime before fleeing to Germany in 2018 and has apologized for his actions. 

Anwar al-Bunni, a former Syrian detainee and human rights lawyer living in Germany, called the conviction “a message to all criminals who still commit the most horrific crimes in Syria that the time of impunity is over.” 

“You will not find a safe place to go to,” al-Bunni said in a statement. 

The verdict came nearly 10 years after Syria’s uprising, which started as peaceful protests against the decades-long Assad family rule and grew into a civil war that’s since killed 400,000 people and driven more than 11 million people from their homes. 

Gharib and many other former regime officials fled to Europe, where they have been living as refugees. In recent years, domestic courts in Germany, France and other European countries have taken on Syrian war crimes cases, relying on the concept of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the prosecution of grave crimes committed in another country. 

Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, hopes the verdict will motivate prosecutors elsewhere in Europe to pursue similar cases. 

“The goal must continue to be to bring high-ranking officials of Assad’s security apparatus to justice. They are responsible for abusing, torturing and executing tens of thousands of people in Syria — not just over the past several years; even today,” Kaleck said in a statement. 

The main defendant in the case, Anwar Raslan, is still on trial. Raslan is accused of overseeing the torture of opposition activists between 2011 and 2012. Prosecutors say that Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian army who ultimately defected, was aware of the massive violence that occurred under his watch. 

The Syrian government continues to use its vast network of prisons to torture and execute the opposition. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, a local monitoring group, estimates 99,000 people are missing in Syria, a majority of whom are detained by the regime.

In June, Germany arrested a doctor accused of torture in one of the Syrian regime’s notorious detention centers. Both France and Germany have also issued arrest warrants for Jamil Hassan, the former head of Syria’s air force intelligence services. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

The Middle East in your inbox Insights in your inbox.

Deepen your knowledge of the Middle East

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial