The regional court in the western city of Koblenz found 58-year-old Anwar Raslan guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people at the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251”, in 2011 and 2012.
Raslan has denied all charges.
Raslan and another defendant, junior officer Eyad al-Gharib, were put on trial in April 2020. Gharib was accused of helping to arrest protesters and deliver them to the detention center. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison last year.
Their trials were the first to address state-led torture during Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011.
Efforts by the U.N. Security Council to refer Raslan’s and other cases from Syria to the Hague-based International Criminal Court have been blocked by Syria’s main allies, Russia and China. The German court tried the two men under the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes.
Human rights activists hope the trial will set a new precedent. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth told the French news agency, AFP, the verdict was historic, and expressed his hope the trials will allow nations around the world to try suspects for war crimes, and mass atrocities in their own countries.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.