Can you ever torture AI

Asylum for the Syrian chief of torture?

Status: 09/24/20 6:00 a.m.
by Jonas Schreijäg, Oliver Schröm and Sulaiman Tadmory

Despite warnings, the federal government brought a suspected Syrian chief torturer to Germany and granted him asylum without a hearing.

The Foreign Office was warned. Nevertheless, the Syrian Anwar R. got a visa for Germany in 2014 and, according to Panorama, received refugee protection and political asylum. The problem: Anwar R. was not a conventional war refugee. He previously served the Syrian regime as a senior intelligence officer. Anwar R. was the head of interrogation in the Intelligence Service Department 251, which is notorious for its torture practices and which also includes the Al-Khatib prison in Damascus.

Anwar R. has been on trial in Germany for crimes against humanity since April 2020. The federal prosecutor's office accuses him of being responsible for 58 murders and at least 4,000 tortures. The trial before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz is the first trial in the world against employees of the Assad regime. Anwar R. denies having ordered or participated in torture.

Opposition initially hoped to get intelligence information from Anwar R.

According to his own statements, Anwar R. deserted from the Syrian secret service at the end of 2012 and fled to Jordan. According to Panorama research, he was helped to escape by the Syrian opposition, which Anwar R. had joined - presumably for pretense. In return, Anwar R. wanted to provide information about the whereabouts of imprisoned Assad opponents, opponent Wael Elkhaldy confirmed to Panorama. "Anwar R. has promised us that he will give us 22,000 documents with information (on Assad opponents) where they are or whether they were killed." This commitment by Anwar R. was also one of the reasons why the high-ranking oppositionist Riad Seif recommended the German Foreign Office to accept the former alleged chief of torture. Riad Seif testified as a witness before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, a total of 2.7 million Syrian refugees were seeking humanitarian protection at the time. At the beginning of 2014 there were over half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan alone, many in mass camps. A visa for Germany - out of reach for most of them. Nevertheless, Anwar R. received a positive decision only six days after applying for a visa at the German embassy in Jordan in 2014. The former secret service employee of the Assad regime was even accepted into a federal admission program for "particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees".

The Foreign Office brings Anwar R. to Germany despite a warning

The German authorities were informed about Anwar R. and his previous work as head of interrogation in a torture prison of the Syrian secret service. Beate Richter, at that time the head of a German development facility in Jordan, had warned the German ambassador in Jordan against accepting Anwar R. In an email that Panorama received, she wrote to the ambassador that Anwar R. had "worked in the department (...) (...) where people are questioned under torture". She finds it "unfair and outrageous that Germany is opening its doors to such people, even though, according to media reports, around 22,000 Syrians have applied for an entry visa." The ambassador answered immediately. Such hints are useful: "We are investigating the matter."

At least the ambassador seems to have informed his highest department in Berlin. When asked by Panorama, the Federal Foreign Office confirmed that it was known that Anwar R. had worked for the Syrian secret service. Nevertheless, as the Foreign Office writes, "at the time (...) the security authorities had no information about Anwar R. who spoke against the entry and the issuing of a visa." The Office does not answer why the Foreign Office accepted Anwar R. for the federal government's humanitarian admission program despite a warning. According to the order of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, no persons should actually be included in the protection program if they have "links to criminal organizations" or who have "supported efforts (...) that violate the idea of ​​international understanding or the peaceful coexistence of peoples are directed. "

Anwar R. receives asylum - without being asked about reasons for fleeing

Despite the warning, the authorities allowed Anwar R. to enter Germany with his family in July 2014. After acceptance into the protection program, preferential treatment for the alleged ex-chief of torture continued. When Anwar R. applied for asylum at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), he was apparently surprised himself how easy it was. He later testified in court that he wanted to comment on his asylum grounds in more detail. But the BAMF officer said: Everything was already in the file and his case was known. He would then be granted refugee status. The BAMF does not comment on this - for reasons of data protection law, one does not talk about individual cases.

Panorama, however, has received an asylum decision from Anwar R. According to this, Anwar R. received both refugee protection and political asylum without having previously been asked about his reasons for fleeing. The legally prescribed "personal hearing (...) was waived", it says - an exception. According to the Asylum Act, refugee protection is not actually granted if it is assumed that the applicant has committed a "crime against peace" or "against humanity".

"Why? "- asks the Syrian activist Wafa Mustafa

"That makes us angry," says Wafa Mustafa, who was herself imprisoned in Syria. The 30-year-old organizes protests and vigils in Germany to draw attention to the victims of the Syrian secret service. Her father, an opponent of the regime, was abducted seven years ago, presumably by the Syrian secret service. Wafa Mustafa knows nothing about her father's whereabouts, not even whether he is still alive. While the former secret service employee Anwar R. was granted asylum in Germany, Wafa Mustafa only enjoys "subsidiary protection" and therefore regularly has to fear for her stay. "While thousands of refugees are uncertain whether their documents will be extended, Anwar R. is so welcomed here," says Mustafa.

When asked by Panorama, the Foreign Office wrote that Anwar R. was brought to Germany "among other things" because of the "recommendation of a high-ranking opposition representative". The office does not write what "among other things" means. In any case, it was "in line with the German government's Syria policy" to support the moderate opposition, which was also joined by high-ranking deserters.

Did Germany want explosive information?

Speculations that the Foreign Office or the Federal Intelligence Service were interested in sensitive intelligence information from Anwar R. are contradicted by the Foreign Office. No information was received from Anwar R., and no one tried to obtain it. It is also said from BND circles that there was no contact with Anwar R.

Whatever the goal: in fact, it is unlikely that Anwar R. ever disclosed sensitive information. In any case, Syrian opposition figures who once wanted to support him have long been disillusioned. "He never gave us any information, he was kidding us," says Wael Elkhaldy. According to his lawyer, Anwar R. does not comment on the panorama research.

It was not until 2018, four years after his arrival in Germany, that an investigation was initiated against Anwar R. The investigating authorities only became aware of the former chief of torture because he allegedly felt he was being persecuted in Germany and reported to the police himself. Apparently he felt so safe in Germany that he frankly told the investigators what position he had once held in the Syrian secret service apparatus. The accounts of Anwar R. led to an investigation and ultimately led to the indictment. The Higher Regional Court of Koblenz must now decide whether Anwar R. is guilty of the most serious human rights crimes. The process dates are set to spring 2021.