English

S3E11: Guilty

Branch 251
January 21, 2022
47
 MIN
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It's here. The verdict in the case of Anwar R.

It took almost two years and more than 100 hearings with 80 witnesses who appeared in court.  The worldwide first criminal trial against former Syrian regime officials was long and complex, with ups and downs, praise and criticism. And at the end of all this, Anwar R. was handed a life sentence for his co-perpetration of murder, torture, sexualized violence and rape, and severe deprivation of liberty as a crime against humanity.  

In today’s final episode of this podcast we take you along on our last trip to Koblenz, to the courtroom, to the judgment.

We want to thank everyone who spoke to us in Koblenz, and everyone who has spoken to us throughout the production of this podcast. There wouldn’t have been a podcast without your stories, expertise and insight.

We could not have made our podcast without financial support. We want to thank all our individual donors from the early months of the project, everyone that participated in the crowdfunding campaign, and the institutional support from Förderfonds Demokratie, UMAM Documentation & Research, medico international, and IFA’s Zivik Funding Programme.

If you can’t get enough of our podcast, do visit the website, branch251podcast.com. Here you’ll find an archive of all our episodes, with their transcripts. Thank you for listening.

A special thanks to Saleem Salameh, who provided the English overdub in this episode.

ECCHR trial reports

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre's monitoring of the trial

Logo design by laurenshebly.nl -- Photo by James Lawler Duggan/AFP/Getty Images.

Music by Kevin McLeod and via Blue Dot Sessions.





Episode Transcript

[music]

Naya, on the phone: It is a symbolic situation because I was in the dark tunnels in the underground and then I got out to the sun. I got a message that he got the life sentence and I was like, oh my God. I smiled. I was really smiling. I was-- Finally some good luck. Finally some good luck for people who really suffered a lot. I'm very excited for all the detainees. I'm happy for all the families that maybe they will have a sense of a bit of relief. This could be the first step towards a more wholesome system of accountability towards the Syrian regime.

Joumana Seif: It's a real recognition of this crime and the severity of this crime but at the end, I know very well it's not about the verdict itself. It's much more beyond that. This crime really contribute and a lot for just letting this file justice and accountability work on the table and to push and hoping to push for more steps.

Ahmad Helmi: …that established a status that we can start from in our advocacy, in the future accountability. It also feels good to hear a verdict from outside the bars, without handcuffs to see the handcuffs on the right hands, finally.

Noor: Anwar R. has just been found guilty of crimes against humanity and will have to serve a life sentence in prison. The higher regional court in Koblenz has reached its decision in the worldwide first criminal trial against former Syrian regime officials for crimes against humanity.

Naya: After about 21 months and more than 100 trial days, the 13th of January was the big day, the climax of the entire trial. Of course, we already had the first decision in the trial a year ago in February, 2021 in the case against the co-defendant Eyad.

Noor: But now we have the judgment in the case against the main defendant Anwar R. former colonel in the Syrian General Intelligence Services. The man accused of having been the head of interrogation at detention center branch 251 also known as the Al-Khatib Branch.

Naya: Anwar R. is the highest-ranking former regime official on trial in Europe for atrocity crimes committed in Syria. When his verdict came, all eyes were on Koblenz. Our colleagues, Pauline, Hannah, and Fritz traveled there to report on this historic event.

Noor: Hannah and Fritz are here as well. Hi, both.

Fritz: Hi everyone.

Hannah: Hey.

Noor: Could you talk us through your trip to Koblenz?

Fritz: Sure. We arrived the day before. Hannah and Pauline are from Berlin and I came in from Paris. [background noise of train station] I've just arrived in Koblenz and on my way to the hotel now to check-in and wait for Hannah and Pauline to arrive. Yes, Hannah. How are you doing?

Hannah: Good.

Fritz: I was literally just mentioning your name.

Pauline: Well, it took me six hours but I am in Koblenz.

Fritz: The day of the verdict started very, very early. Good morning, everybody. It's the 13th of January, 2022 judgment day. It's 4:45 in the morning. I just got up--

Hannah: Yes, the doors of the court were scheduled to open at 8:00 but there were not that many seats available for the general public. Anyone who was really serious about getting a spot had to be there much, much earlier. I heard from the earliest arrivals, they came to the courtroom at 3:30 in the morning.

Fritz: Walking to the courtroom right now. It is pretty cold. I'm curious to see how many people are already there waiting. We'll join them in the line in a bit. Yes, there's already quite some people waiting in line here. Let's see where the line starts. Good morning. Hi Deb, how are you? How's it going?

Deb: Oh, I love being up this early.

Fritz: You love it, yes. Nice and cold.

Deb: It's not too much that is cold.

Naya: Folks, you arrived at the courtroom?

Fritz: Yes. Like Hannah said hours and hours before dawn it was dark and there was already a line when we got there around 5:00 AM.

Noor: What kind of people were in that line?

Fritz: We arrived and like Hannah said there was a group of people that had been there since shortly past 3:00 AM. A mix of activists interested in the case, having followed the case and definitely a group of Syrians including some that are survivors from the very crimes that were committed at Branch 251 and who wanted to make sure that they get a spot inside. While we were waiting in line for the doors to open and finally get inside and get into the warmth, we spoke to some of the people waiting in line among them was Ahmad Helmi.

Ahmad: I'm Ahmad Helmi, I'm a Syrian human rights defender and I'm also a survivor of three years in nine different detention facilities in Syria.

Noor: For those of you listening, you might remember Ahmad from season three, episode five. Back then, we spoke to him about how even abroad it's becoming increasingly difficult to speak up against Bashar al-Assad.

Fritz: Why are you here?

Ahmad: Actually, I wanted for the first time to feel how it is to be in a court but not behind the bars and in a court that you are not expected to be beaten up or you're not expected to be tortured.

Fritz: How are you expecting to feel after the judgment?

Ahmad: Actually, unless it it's a non-guilty verdict, I already feel that we have achieved something. For me, it doesn't matter what the verdict is. Is it like 10 years, 20-lifetime verdict? It doesn't matter because Anwar R. is only one person and the symbolism of the verdict is in the fact that there is a court in a country that respects the law saying that there is a systematic torture in Syria.

Fritz: We also ran into Nuran al Ghamian. You might remember her from way back in season one, episode eight. She's a survivor of branch 251 herself.

Nuran al Ghamian: My name is Nuran al Ghamian and I'm part of this trial. I've been arrested in 2012 end of may and actually I met him twice during that time while I was in Al-Khatib Branch.

Fritz: Why are you here today again, for the judgment?

Nuran: Okay. Obviously, it's going to be a really big day and it means a lot to me to know what call they will make eventually and to face the criminal. It's really something I cannot describe even when I testified the first time here in Koblenz it was really hard to make an eye contact with Anwar.

Fritz: Today you will see him again.

Nuran: I'm going to see him again.

Fritz: Finally, before entering the courthouse I had a chat with Hussein Ghrer, one of the join plaintiffs, the civil parties that joined the case. We discussed his testimony in season one as well, in episode 17.

Hussein Ghrer: My name is Hussein Ghrer. I'm a witness in this trial and also a plaintiff. I'm here today to personally hear the verdict and the most importantly the reasoning of this verdict, how the judges, how the court sees the context in Syria. How do they see the role of this individual in the bigger apparatus who used to commit crimes against the Syrians?

Fritz: Yes. What are you expecting this judgment will make you feel afterwards?

Hussein: Actually, I'm not sure. First of all of course it's very important to hear that the perpetrator has been convicted especially as I said part of a bigger system. Also, I feel is just tiny step in this long journey of justice. We don't know what could come later. I cannot say I would be happy. I cannot say I can welcome it as it deserve because the higher rank criminals are still free and committing crimes. There are still tens of thousands of Syrians still detained and being tortured every day. It's very complex feeling expectations.

Hannah: Shortly past eight o'clock it was finally time to go in, although it took almost two hours for everyone in line to go through the security check. Of course, all recording equipment had to be left behind at the door.

Pauline: Test test. Yes. Hi everyone. This is Pauline, I'm outside the courtroom. It is nine o'clock. Fritz and Hannah are inside and I was waiting with them and originally, also planned to go inside. I've been standing in line for three and a half hours, but there were so many people behind me that I decided to give up my spot. Here I am. I'd say there is still about, it's really busy., I think there's like 50 people outside still. There is people holding banners, people holding photos of loved ones, because this is a day that is very focused on a perpetrator and on one man.

In the hustle and bustle of all that culpability and the sentencing and the verdict, as some people pointed out ,it's actually the victims that we shouldn't lose sight of. Here they are holding photos of their loved ones, signs, trying to make everyone remember what this is about, why we're here.

Noor: Pauline, you really painted a very powerful image of what it looked like to be there at the courtroom. To see all these people who, and a really important day for them. I wish I was there and was able to experience that too, Fritz and Hannah, why don't you tell us what happened inside?

Fritz: After you enter the courthouse there's a ton of security checks. Then you walk up this pretty impressive long stairway to the upper floor and then on the left side of the hallway you open the doors. You get into the courtroom from the back and you immediately look to the front and to the backside off the room, which is where the elevated bench is where the judges sit higher than the other parties. Then behind the judges, there's really ceremonially looking huge bookshelf that holds all these books, which I assume are books of German laws and rules of procedure and symbolically standing, sitting behind the judges and governing all that they do.

Hannah: Yes, fun fact, this courtroom actually used to be a library and they actually changed it because they didn't have a large enough room for this trial. I guess they kept at least some of the books back there. Like you said, there's the judges in the front and then on the left side, we have the two prosecutors and two translators who simultaneously translate everything from German to Arabic for the case parties. Someone like Anwar R. himself can listen to the translation through headphones.

This time for the verdict only, exceptionally for the verdict, the two translators also translated from German to Arabic for the people at the public gallery. Everyone present in the courtroom could actually follow the verdict in Arabic through the loudspeakers. Then we have those on the left and then opposite them on the right side of the room, we have Anwar R with his personal translator, his defense lawyers. Then in the center facing the judges, we have the civil parties or joint plaintiffs and their lawyers, and right behind them, we have us the public.

Fritz: That's where we were sitting and waiting for the judges to come in and announce the verdict. The room was pretty packed, in relative terms. Obviously, due to COVID it was not full capacity. Everybody was separated from each other by sort of this tall glass window. Then Anwar R. came in through this side door and had to walk across the room to his seat. I don't know. I saw him almost two years ago at the beginning of the trial. It seems to me that the way that he's walking and the way that he's holding his body, his physique is a bit more frail.

I have the feeling that he's really grown a bit older during the course of this trial. He sat down, rearranged his mask at a bit, looked around a little bit. Then really quickly just did what he's done for most of the trial, which is just stared to the front and take some notes every now and then, and just wait like everyone else for the judges to come in, which they then did. Everybody got up from their seats and waited for the presiding judge Kerber to read out the summary of the judgment.

Pauline: I'm outside the courtroom in Koblenz. It's about eleven o'clock. Anwar R. has just been found guilty of crimes against humanity and will have to serve a life sentence in prison. There are dozens of camera crews, journalists, people on the phone, people being interviewed. It definitely feels like an important moment and it feels special to be so close to it. I'm curious to hear what Fritz and Hannah will have to say later, I expect it'll take another couple of hours before the verdict is actually completely read out.

Last time with Eyad A, it took about three and a half hours, and I expect it to take a bit longer today. I'm going to try and talk to some people.

Hannah: This was the moment that Anwar R.’s guilty verdict started making headlines around the world and inside the courtroom while the verdict was being read out and Anwar R. as always, stone-faced like, I was watching him and he was just like staring into space. I was really trying to see any kind of movement on his face, some kind of facial expression. He must be shocked by the fact that he'll be spending at least the next 15 years of his life in prison, but he didn't react at all. Then as soon as the first few sentences of the verdict are read out, everyone's allowed to sit down.

He immediately started taking notes and I almost felt that he was holding on to his pen to distract himself and taking notes to distract himself from any kind of emotions that might be welling up inside of him. I did notice that when the first time the court took a break, he was taken outside the courtroom, which is quite unusual because he usually stays inside, especially when the breaks are very short. Maybe he did actually need a moment to himself to digest what had just happened.

Fritz: That's what happened inside the courtroom. Outside, of course, it was different. Less immediate how the verdict reached the people that were waiting and, Pauline was there and she got a hold of a few people to get their immediate reaction not least yours. She called you Naya.

Naya (on the phone): Hello, Pauline.

Pauline: Hey, Naya. Hi there.

Naya: Hey.

Pauline: Hey. How are you?

Naya: I'm very happy. Very happy at the moment.

Pauline: Yes?

Naya: Yes. It is a beautiful morning. It's sunny. There's justice in the air.

Pauline: Is today a good day?

Naya: Yes, very much.

Pauline: What do you think this will mean?

Naya: I think it brought some sense of justice to Syrian people, to people who really suffered from this regime. From- I don't know, it really made me smile because with all the bad news that is coming from the country, I think that people in the regime or officials are really held accountable. Basically, I'm very excited for all the detainees. I'm happy for all the families that maybe they will have a sense of a bit of relief that this could be the first step towards a more wholesome system of accountability towards the Syrian regime. Let's see.

Pauline: How did you find out about the verdict?

Naya: Well, I was waiting for it. I was in the underground and it is a symbolic situation because I was in the dark tunnels in the underground, and then I got out to the sun, which was really weird during the winter. Basically I got a message that he got the life sentence and I was like, oh my God, I smiled. I was really smiling. I don't know. It was a very interesting moment for me and just like finally some good luck for people who really suffered a lot.

Naya (in the studio): Well, guys, I was speechless. I was speechless. I couldn't believe it. I didn't find the word and I was really happy because honestly, the bad news that we are getting you open Twitter, you open Facebook, you open like everywhere. It's bad news all over, but at the end there was a bit of recognition of what happened in Syria. The unfair reality that lived by and still lived by many, many Syrians convicting a phase for the countless crime that all people in Syria feel for more than 50 years, it is something to celebrate.

It is the beginning of course we always think it is the beginning. It's not enough, but it is the first step.

Fritz: I can't imagine what that must have done to you to hear that news. Back to the outside of the courtroom, Pauline then spoke to Joumana Seif who works at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin or in short ECCHR, which of course has supported a number of joint plaintiffs and witnesses throughout the trial.

Pauline: Oh, if have to go-

Joumana: No

Pauline: Joumana, can I get your reaction to the verdict that just came in?

Joumana: I think it's okay, and I hope that the survivors themselves they are satisfied with this verdict. I think it's a good, it's an important step. It's a real recognition of the crimes committed in the detention facilities and in the Al-Khatib Branch as crimes against humanity. I hope that also this step will be a strong base for future work. We need more steps. It's very important, but it's not enough. Also hope that the other European countries will do the same and open more investigations and utilize the universal jurisdiction to push for justice for Syria.

Pauline: Does the verdict match your expectations or are you surprised or?

Joumana: I think it matched my expectations. I think it's okay but it's not-- I'm really looking to hear from the survivors themselves and to see– to discuss that. At the end, I know very well it's not about the verdict itself. It's much more beyond that. This crime really contributed a lot for just letting this file, justice and accountability work, on the table and to push, and hoping to push for more steps.

Pauline: We're standing outside the court right now. Are you a little bit sad not to be in the courtroom?

Joumana: It's okay, as all the survivors, they-- I'm supporting them and as my colleagues from ECCHR are inside, so, and we are in contact somehow with our colleagues. It's okay. It's fine. It's important to tell the whole world about these crimes and yes it's okay. Fine. Despite that it’s very cold here.

Pauline: Is today a good day?

Joumana: For the survivors, yes. For the road of justice for the Syrian, yes. I think it's a good day.

Noor: Joumana is really emphasizing the impact this trial will have on future justice efforts for Syria.

Fritz: Yes, that's exactly right. Joumana here is really pointing towards the significance of what this means for the joint plaintiffs, for the Syrian civil parties that joined the case. One of whom you'll hear from next.

Pauline: Could you begin by telling me your name?

Amjad: I'm Amjad.

Pauline: We just heard the verdict. What is your first reaction to it?

Amjad: We're very happy. It's a very delicate moment for all Syrians here that we have taken a step towards the justice that we are demanding. We hope that the verdict will be a life sentence and that he can never come out because a lot of people have been harmed by decisions made by him and also the government which he represents.

Pauline: What does today mean to you?

Amjad: This day, like, what I said is a historic day, because it has a meaning to all Syrians. Not only this trial, but also the upcoming trials, which will start in the coming days. It's a turning point for us to hold all criminals to account and that no one escapes from judgments of the crimes that they committed.

Fritz: We also checked in with Nuran again, this time after the verdict.

Noor: Is the court no longer in session at this point?

Hannah: No, it still was in session, but people went in and out and there were several breaks in between as well. This was during one of those breaks.

Nuran: Hi again.

Fritz: How do you feel?

Nuran: I'm good actually. Just, I was describing how exactly I feel. Basically, I'm tired. I'm sleepy and feeling cold and starving. I think we all the same in this situation. It's tiring, this kind of things especially for us, like, as survivors.

Fritz: Do you know who you will talk to and tell about this first, who wasn't here? Like who will you tell?

Nuran: My mother because she were there with me and my sister as well. We all were at the same place at Al-Khatib Branch like different times, different periods. My mother, she was a really important part of this trial, but she couldn't make it to come here, so definitely I'm going to call her.

Fritz: Of course, Ahmad Helmi who was outside a lot, supporting other activists and talking to the press. He also had a moment to spare for us.

Pauline: What do you think of today's verdict?

Ahmad: Actually, not the verdict itself who gave me this amazing feeling, but what came after it, the reasoning that the judge started to narrate why they made this verdict. How they say that torture in Syria is systematic done by state with this. That evidence that gave us like that established a status that we can start from in our advocacy, in the future accountability. It also feels good to hear a verdict from outside the bars without handcuffs, without being scared that you will go back to prison to see the handcuffs on the right hands finally.

Pauline: You're a survivor yourself. What do you think this day means for you and what does it mean for other survivors?

Ahmad: For me, I don't know. It feels for me that the challenge has started and there is too much to be done. Yet with this small, yet important victory, I feel I have more energy and more power to continue fighting for justice and accountability.

Pauline: Yes, because last time we talked, you were quite pessimistic about activism in general, that it was becoming more dangerous and it felt more pointless than it maybe did before. Do you think this has changed anything? Or is that being too optimistic?

Ahmad: For me, it did. Actually, yes. After you hear you need something to give you this push of energy because you start to lose hope. You start to lose meaning when you feel like you're running, you're fighting, you're struggling every day and the crimes are still ongoing. It is still ongoing today, but at least we have achieved something. For me, it's going to change the reality. I hope that it will change the reality for other Syrian human rights defenders and activists.

Noor: Lots of different reactions already. I'm wondering, though, what were your thoughts at this moment when you were there?

Fritz: We were just leaving the courtroom, and I'm standing here with Hannah, and we're starting to reflect a little bit on what happened today. What's your first take, Hannah?

Hannah: What we expected happened, the lifelong sentence. What didn't happen was the special severity of guilt. It's taking much longer than expected. I actually saw several people dozing off. I've heard all these testimonies before, so I'm like, "Okay, this is nothing new to me," but then, of course, sometimes you just take a moment and you remember, well, these are actually pretty horrible stories. Someone actually went through all that. You shouldn't be there being like, "Oh, when this is over."

You should reflect and remember all those people. It's been interesting, but I think the most interesting thing is all the people that are here, all the activists, from all over Germany, and even other countries.

Fritz: It was a long line this morning, and it was a hassle to get inside. What stuck with me is the, I think very sensitive way that the presiding judge is doing this. I think she's really paying attention to every party also in the courtroom, including the accused, but definitely to the civil parties, to the joint plaintiffs going through the accounts again, and giving them their moment. Also, what stuck with me was, I think she used a very interesting characterization and an answer to our question from an earlier episode, Anwar, who? I think she call them, a eager, intelligent, reliable technocrat.

Hannah: What else I thought was interesting, I remembered that she said exactly the same thing with the first verdict, was that she started by saying that it is not the Assad regime here on trial, it is Anwar R.

Fritz: Which is this fine balance because, at the same time, she then goes into the history of how we got to this point. The state crimes that were already at least being prepared if not committed before 2011, and how Assad used the intelligence services to violently suppress and annihilate dissent. It's this interestingly fine balance that this court is walking by pointing that out, what you're saying, Assad and his inner circle is not on trial. Yet at the same time they're definitely making it known and clear, in which state crime context the crimes that Anwar R. is now convicted for were committed, right?

Hannah: I feel like this time, and the last time she said that. it's like, "Okay, you're saying that," but, we all feel differently about it. It has to be about the crimes of the Assad regime because the only way that we can even put someone like Anwar R. on trial in Germany is if it happens if his crimes are related to crimes against humanity. The crimes against humanity have to be related to a widespread and systematic attack. It is not about individual crimes. Yes, the verdict has to be about his individual crimes, but the trial is about the crimes of the Assad regime.

I think that's something that she might want to deny, but it's always in the room.

Fritz: I agree. Legally speaking, that is totally right. Crimes against humanity, part of the accusations can only be proven if the state crimes are literally proven in this very trial as well. There you go.

Hannah: I think we have to go back inside for probably another hour. 

Noor: By now, we've had a few days to let the verdict sink in to read and think about it. Do any of you have any new thoughts?

Fritz: From my perspective, one thing that I've been asked a couple of times since returning from Koblenz is, what do you think about the judgment? Do you think it's fair? I want to say it's fair, and that it also has to do with this one question that when I went to Koblenz, it was for me the core question, how the court was going to answer it. That was what we were describing in earlier episodes, the question whether the judges would find that particular severity of guilt, which they didn't.

We heard that right in the beginning of the announcement of the verdict. They later explained why they didn't describe Anwar R.'s guilt as particularly severe, which would have meant that he couldn't ask for release on parole after 15 years, but only after about 20 years or more. That is, in summary, is that the court did put to his advantage to Anwar R.'s advantage that he did defect from the regime. He has again stated that he clearly doesn't agree with it, and with what he calls the crimes that they started committing.

Clearly, there's a lot of grey zones, and the reasons for his defection, and all that we've discussed it in the podcast are not clear. The court did mention that that was to his advantage. That, including in the two moments during the trial that he spoke, that he did, in fact, confirm and admit to some of the crimes that he was accused of. That's why he did not get that particular severity of guilt element. I think, in the larger scheme of things, I think that's fair. I don't know what you guys think.

Noor: Fritz, this was something I was thinking about when I first heard the verdict or at least one thing that was on my mind was, for me, at least I was really excited about the verdict. I was really happy, but I kept wondering, how does this square with Anwar R.'s perception of himself as the person who was doing everything he can to protect people and to save people from his position? That was going through my mind, how does he square this vision of himself with the way that this courtroom, this place where justice is supposed to take place.

Where all the evidence is presented in front of him, and still, his vision of himself isn't the one that everyone else agrees with? I imagine that must have been weird for him to recognize that his vision of himself is not perceived as reality by many people, or by most people, it seems. I actually heard about the verdict right when I woke up. It was the first thing that I saw when I woke up. I had a million text messages and all the news notifications. It was a really good way to wake up. It was a really exciting day.

I think I had that initial excitement, but what was going through my mind was, "What next?" How is this trial going to impact future trials? What does this mean for Syria?" I think what was going through my mind was, this big thing happened, and I'm really excited to hear what people have to say and what people anticipate this will mean moving forward. There is one person here who's been to almost every single session of the trial. Hannah, I'm really curious to hear your thoughts.

Hannah: As someone who's watched the trial for almost 100 days, I have to admit that I've started seeing quite a lot of flaws in it, which doesn't mean that I don't really respect and understand the meaning it has for survivors, and for Syrians in general. I think that was underlined again, by the fact that so many people were outside and inside the courtroom, and so many people got up early to really be there. That trial, that was a very important step for many people, and especially also to just record what's been happening in Syria for history, and to have that acknowledged by a court.

That being said, I just want to talk again, about those technicalities that have gone wrong. Technicalities sounds like trivial stuff, but they were actually quite big issues. Remember the whole language problem, the fact that non-German speakers had very little access to the trial. The fact that it wasn't recorded, even though it's such a historical trial that could be very important for future generations. In general, that outreach problem, I actually talked to, Ameenah Sawwan from the Syria campaign this morning, and she said that she as a Syrian felt excluded from the trial.

That it felt like a trial by Germans for Germans. This is the whole contradiction, that universal jurisdiction is supposed to be international. That's why a German court can even prosecute someone from Syria, but then we've seen it being executed in a not really international way at all. Another aspect of that was the problem of witness protection. Witnesses who were in court and they realized that what they're going to say might be a danger to their families still living in Syria. They didn't realize that they would have to testify anyway.

I think those flaws are really important to keep in mind for the future. Also, there's an even deeper lying problem, which I started to call the defective dilemma. The fact that the regime is still in place and only those who have turned their backs to it can be prosecuted and put in court. I'm not saying that a person becomes innocent just because of defecting. People like Anwar R. really still played their part. In his case, even a big part in the regime's crimes, but it just makes you wonder what the purpose of justice is, how does justice work.

Obviously, it's there for victims and survivors, but in a political context, it should also somehow be directed towards the future. If you think about it in a transitional justice approach, it's important that justice creates a basis for society to overcome a conflict and to live together again in the future, and to rebuild. That's something that I'm not sure has been represented well in this trial. This has really left many questions in my mind about how and whether these kinds of trials from afar can actually provide a comprehensive type of justice.

[music]

Noor: With the end of the trial, we've also reached the end of our podcast. We want to take a moment here to thank all of our listeners for their continued interest in our podcast. It has been an absolute pleasure to bring the episode to you. I've learned so much through exploring the intricacies of the trial, the historic and social context around it, and through meeting and talking to so many Syrians on this issue. I hope that everything we shared through the podcast has been beneficial and educational for many as well.

Thank you all so much for your comments and for your feedback, the critiques, and the kind words that you've shared with us over the past 21 months.

Naya: We want to thank everyone that has somehow participated in our podcast, the many guests and sources without which we couldn't have and never told the stories we brought to you. Thank you all so much for sharing your expertise, insights, and stories with us. On a personal note, a big thanks to the podcast team for embracing me as the newest member for the second Arabic and third English seasons. I was lucky to be involved in such an important and needed matter, justice.

Fritz: When this podcast started almost two years ago, I would have never imagined that it would become such a great project. I'm really proud of my colleagues who've made it all possible. Pauline, Saleem, Hannah, Noor, and Naya, working with you has been really an amazing experience. I think the special skill sets, insights, and approaches to our difficult and complex topic that every single one of you brought to the team and the mix of all of that, that's reflected in each of the episodes. That's shaped our podcast into what it became and what it is now.

The compliments that we've received along the way, they're all for you. Special thanks to those behind the scenes like Farah and Hadi, who helped us with communications and the website. Of course to Laurens and Maarten for their early and continuous support and advice on strategic and technical questions. Now, while there won't be any new episodes of this podcast coming your way, the ones we've broadcast will remain online. The same goes for our Twitter and Instagram channels. Feel free to contact us there and be in touch.

Also, our website will, of course, stay live. You can find the text transcripts of all the episodes there. The address is branch251podcast.com. We're planning to publish all of these text transcripts of all the episodes in English and in Arabic in a curated form sometime later this year. There are some exciting plans in the pipeline with new podcast ideas. There are so many trials like the one in Koblenz that's just finished. It's like after the trial, it's before the trial because there are many that are either already happening or about to start, like the one in Frankfurt against Alaa M. that we just discussed a second ago.

There are some that are expected to begin in the near future. There are so many stories to tell around them and so much information to share, so you will hear again from us soon.

[music]

Pauline: Branch 251 is a 75 podcast production. Today's final episode was hosted by Naya Skaf and Noor Hamadeh. Fritz Streiff, Hannah el-Hitami, and myself, Pauline Peek, went to Koblenz to attend the announcement of the court's judgment. We also wrote and produced this episode with editorial help from Naya Skaf and Noor Hamadeh. I did the sound and editing. We want to thank everyone who spoke to us in Koblenz and everyone who has spoken to us throughout the production of this podcast. There wouldn't have been a podcast without your stories, expertise, and insight.

We also couldn't have made our podcast without financial support. We want to thank all our individual donors from the early months of the project, everyone that participated in the crowdfunding campaign, and the institutional support from Förderfonds Demokratie, UMAM Documentation & Research, medico, and IFA's Zivik Funding Programme. If you can't get enough of our podcast, do visit the website branch251podcast.com. Here you'll find an archive of all our episodes with their transcripts. Thank you for listening.

[music]


John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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