Berlin/Koblenz – Accredited Arabic-speaking journalists will finally have access to simultaneous German-Arabic interpretation during the world’s first trial on Syrian state torture before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany. This was ordered by the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on 18 August 2020. In doing so, the court granted the petition for a preliminary injunction filed on 13 August by Syrian journalist Mansour al Omari and a representative of the human rights organization Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC). They were supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
The so called al-Khatib trial against Anwar R and Eyad A began in April 2020. Among other charges, the two former Syrian government officials stand accused of crimes against humanity. ECCHR is supporting 17 Syrian torture survivors in the trial, seven of whom are joint plaintiffs and are represented by ECCHR partner lawyers. The Open Society Justice Initiative also represents five survivors. The trial is of historic significance not only for the German judiciary but also for the Syrian public.
“This trial involves Syrian government representatives who allegedly committed crimes against the Syrian civilian population,” stated Syrian journalist and complainant al Omari. “The Assad government is still in office, still committing these crimes. This makes it all the more important that we, as Syrian journalists and NGOs, are able to follow the trial directly and report about it in our national language.” Mohammad al Abdallah, SJAC’s executive director, added: “Although preliminary, this is a significant win for Syrian survivors and their families, giving them a meaningful opportunity to follow the Koblenz proceedings.”
Since German is the official court language, Syrian media representatives cannot follow most of the trial. Even though every word is translated for the defendants, the Koblenz court has so far denied public access to this simultaneous interpretation.
“The preliminary injunction by the constitutional court affects two of the complainants’ fundamental rights: the right to equal treatment and freedom of the press,” explained lawyer Maik Elster who drafted the complaint with lawyer Björn Elberling. “By virtue of this decision, Syrian journalists can now follow this important trial and report about it in detail. It is a great success that the constitutional court recognized how essential direct access to the al-Khatib trial is for the Syrian public.”
Wolfgang Kaleck, ECCHR’s general secretary, said: “Not only must the parties be able to follow these proceedings, many Syrians worldwide desire to be informed. Access to the interpretation in court is therefore essential for Arabic-speaking journalists and activists. With this decision, the German judiciary can send an important signal for future trials.”