Today the sentence in Koblenz. Among the witnesses a lawyer who met him again by chance
“It will be justice it will not be revenge.” There will also be Anwar Al Bunni in court in Koblenz. It is here, at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle, that today one of Assad’s hierarchs finally goes to sentence for the first time, accused of having tortured, raped and killed thousands of Syrian opponents. Anwar Raslan, 58, faces life imprisonment. To bring him to the bar, another Anwar. Al Bunni, 62, activist and lawyer.
Al Bunni has been in Germany for a couple of months when he comes face to face with the man who had jailed and tortured him ten years earlier. Both are shopping at a Turkish shop near Marienfelde, a refugee center in Berlin, which they both now call home. A flash and an instant, for a moment in Al Bunni something lights up in the memory. “I know this man,” he says to his wife. But he can’t remember who he is. Then the feeling passes. It is 2014, a year before Angela Merkel opens the doors to Syrian refugees. ‘After a few days, one of my friends said:’ Did you know that Anwar Raslan is in Marienfelde? ‘ And at that point Al Bunni makes two and two.
The two Anwar, born four years apart, both studied law, but chose opposite sides of the Syrian fence. Raslan had become a police officer before moving to the intelligence services, where he allegedly met and tortured Al Bunni. Al Bunni in turn, before embarking on a legal career, at the beginning of the 1980s found employment in the construction sector. And in those years he participated in the construction of Sednaya Prison, the same where all political opponents will be imprisoned. And within whose walls, for a mockery of fate, Al Bunni’s sister, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law will spend part of their detention. And it is for them that Anwar becomes a lawyer. When he began his legal apprenticeship in the mid-1980s, along with other young lawyers, he asked the government to account for the detentions ordered by Hafez Assad. In 2006 he was sentenced to five years for “spreading false news”, having founded an unlicensed political group and having dealt with foreign countries. And this is where Raslan first faces. When he is released in 2011, the situation in Syria is further worsening. So Al Bunni first sent his wife and children abroad. And secretly plans his escape. He dyes his mustache and hair blonde and wears blue contact lenses. Then, thanks to the help of a friend, he manages to pass to Lebanon, from there he flies to Berlin where he asks for political asylum and where he will find his executioner by chance.
“Right after I met Raslan, I didn’t think much of it. But something kept buzzing in my head. ‘ Al Bunni starts working to find testimonies and evidence against the regime. Not difficult in Germany where half of Syria has fled. And Raslan’s name comes out. He the bad Anwar and former colonel of the Syrian mukhabarat, before defecting in 2012, worked for military intelligence, presumably at the head of section 251. There, prosecutors argue, Raslan institutionalized torture by subjecting his prisoners to electric shocks, beatings and sexual assaults.
Today Al Bunni, after testifying against Raslan, will again come face to face with his tormentor. “Of course, for the Syrians of my generation there is very little hope of seeing an Assad in the stand,” he explains. Syria does not recognize the International Criminal Court and, for the moment, Bashar Assad still seems firm in command. Courts like that of Koblenz are then the only place where one can hope for justice. “But only in those countries – and Germany is among them – that include the doctrine of universal jurisdiction in their laws, allowing their judges to prosecute someone for a crime committed in another state.”
A few hours before the hearing, Al Bunni does not stop smiling (as well as smoking). He says he still feels strong. And to those who ask him for news, he answers calmly. “I’ve never, ever lost my faith. Raslan will spend most of his life in prison. ‘