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A Historic Judgment in Paris: In Absentia Trial of Syrian Regime Officials with Compelling Testimonies Documenting Torture

By: LL.M Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.

Case Background

On May 24, 2024, the Paris Criminal Court issued a life sentence in absentia against three high-ranking officials of the Syrian regime: Ali Mamlouk, Head of the Syrian National Security Bureau; Jamil Hassan, former Head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence; and Abdul Salam Mahmoud, an officer in the Air Force Intelligence. These verdicts were the result of their involvement in the disappearance, torture, and murder of Syrian-French citizens Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick (Abdul Qader) Dabbagh.

The events of the case began in November 2013, when elements of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested Patrick Dabbagh from his home in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Patrick, a university student at Damascus University’s College of Arts and Humanities, was taken to Mazzeh Military Airport, known as one of the worst torture centers in Syria. The next day, the same elements returned to the Dabbagh family home and arrested his father, Mazen Dabbagh, who was the principal educational advisor at the French School in Damascus, on charges of failing to raise his son properly.

Father and son were subjected to horrific forms of physical and psychological torture, including being beaten with iron rods on the soles of their feet, electric shocks, and sexual violence. Both disappeared after their arrest, and their deaths were not announced until August 2018 when the regime sent death certificates to the family, stating that Patrick had died in January 2014 and Mazen in November 2017.

The case was referred to the French judiciary by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH), supported by Obaida Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother, and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. In October 2016, these organizations filed a complaint with the French War Crimes Unit, and the French prosecutor opened a judicial investigation in November 2016. During the investigations, 23 Syrian witnesses testified, either because they had survived the Mazzeh detention center or had personally encountered one of the accused officials. In October 2018, investigating judges issued international arrest warrants against Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud for their involvement in crimes against humanity of torture and enforced disappearance.

Court Sessions Details

Wednesday Session on May 22nd

Testimony of Catherine Marchi-Uhel

During the session held on May 22, Catherine Marchi-Uhel, former head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), gave her testimony before the court. Catherine Marchi-Uhel is a former French judge and headed the Mechanism from August 2017 to May 2024.

Catherine began her testimony by highlighting the role of the IIIM in documenting violations in Syria. She explained that the Mechanism collected testimonies from Syrian refugees, documents, photos, and audio testimonies, including Caesar photos that document torture in Syrian prisons. She emphasized that these documents and testimonies provide conclusive evidence of systematic repression and torture in Syrian prisons.

Catherine described how the statements and testimonies were collected, noting that they included accounts from individuals within the Syrian regime and survivors of the prisons. She explained that these testimonies were supported by documents and photographs demonstrating the severe abuses committed by Syrian security agencies.

Catherine explained that the Syrian regime used the crisis cell established in 2011 as a tool to suppress protesters. This cell relied on lists of names provided by informants to arrest individuals through demonstrations, home raids, or security checkpoints spread throughout the country. She pointed out that the arrests were violent and targeted men, women, and children who were sent to various investigation centers such as Air Force and military intelligence.

Catherine described the horrific conditions detainees faced in prisons. She outlined various forms of torture the detainees were subjected to, including beatings, electric shocks, sexual violence, hanging detainees from their wrists, and nail extraction. She noted that some detainees were held in overcrowded underground cells, where large numbers exceeded the cell capacity, forcing some to sleep standing up.

Catherine stated that the Syrian regime was fully aware of what was happening in the prisons, as reports were directly sent to President Bashar al-Assad. She indicated that the regime decided not to return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families but to bury them in mass graves. She confirmed that these mass graves are evidence of the large number of victims.

Catherine elaborated on the roles of Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud in these abuses. She explained that Ali Mamlouk, who served as the Head of the National Security Bureau, coordinated between President Bashar al-Assad and the security agencies.

Jamil Hassan, as the Head of Air Force Intelligence, was responsible for the torture of detainees, while Abdul Salam Mahmoud managed the investigations branch of the Air Force Intelligence.

In her testimony, Catherine mentioned that the IIIM collected statements from 332 detainees, including 5 children and 125 women, many of whom were subjected to systematic torture. She confirmed that the arrests did not only target protesters but also included journalists, humanitarian workers, political opponents, and retired military personnel. She also mentioned that torture was systematically practiced in all Syrian intelligence branches, inclusive of sexual violence against both males and females.

Catherine noted that the Syrian regime follows a clear methodology in torturing detainees and suppressing the opposition, where officials enjoy complete impunity. She confirmed that Bashar al-Assad was aware of everything happening, pointing to ongoing coordination between him and the security leadership. She explained that the Syrian regime used terrorism charges to justify arrests and repression and that military courts were part of this repressive system.

She concluded her testimony by pointing out that the information gathered by the IIIM indicates that the Syrian regime follows a systematic policy of torture and persecution, which includes various security agencies under the supervision of the highest leadership in the regime.

Testimony of Veronique Sadys

Veronique Sadys is a police officer from the French Bureau for Combating Crimes Against Humanity. Veronique began her testimony by providing an overview of the department she works for in Paris, which was established in 2009. She explained that this department specializes in combating crimes against humanity and includes three main sections: human trafficking, genocide, and war crimes. The department conducts international investigations involving countries including Syria, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, collecting evidence, analyzing it, and referring it to the judiciary.

Veronique explained that they have global jurisdiction, allowing them to pursue crimes even if the perpetrators are outside France. The department coordinates with the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the police, international institutions, and European and international police, using open sources such as television, newspapers, and academic research to prepare their reports. On September 9, 2015, the department received a message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning 46,000 photos, including 7,000 photos of Syrian detainees, among them the Caesar photos.

Veronique explained that Caesar's photographs were subjected to thorough analysis for six months and were ultimately verified for their authenticity. These photographs provided irrefutable evidence of widespread torture in Syrian detention facilities, depicting the bodies of detainees bearing severe signs of torture.

Veronique stated that the investigations revealed that the Syrian regime used chemical and live weapons, besieged cities, and conducted arbitrary arrests. The torture practices were systematic, targeting not only detainees but also their families, instilling fear and terror among them. Some detainees were released to spread terror by narrating their horrifying experiences in prisons.

Veronique described the dire conditions of detention in prisons, where detainees took turns sleeping due to overcrowding, and cells had no windows. Torture included hanging detainees by their hands, rape, and whipping. Intelligence branches such as Branch 250, 251, and the Palestine Branch were known as death branches.

Regarding the Dabbagh case, Veronique explained that Obaida Dabbagh contacted the French Bureau for Combating Crimes Against Humanity to explain what happened to his brother and nephew. On November 3, 2013, the Air Force Intelligence raided Patrick Dabbagh’s home in Damascus, taking him along with his personal computer. The next day, Mazen Dabbagh and his brother-in-law Nasser were arrested. She mentioned that Mazen’s wife paid $15,000 trying to find out the fate of her husband and son but was told they had died and was furthermore expelled from her home, which Abdul Salam Mahmoud seized.

Veronique explained that the  French Bureau for Combating Crimes Against Humanity verified the Dabbagh family’s nationality and started an investigation, listening to family testimonies and those of other witnesses. During the session, 25 Caesar photos were displayed, and the defense lawyer commented on the numbers on the corpses, indicating the forensic medicine centers and security agencies the bodies came from.

Veronique concluded her testimony by noting that other Syrian-related cases are under investigation and that they found satellite images indicating mass graves near the Military Hospital in Damascus.

Testimony of Ziad Majed

Ziad Majed began his testimony by recounting his arrest by Syrian intelligence on August 31, 2011. He was in his pharmacy when two armed men entered and blindfolded him, taking him to a location on the town's outskirts. He was placed in a small room for half an hour, then transferred by car with two other individuals to Hama Military Airport, where he was placed on an uneven floor in a room with iron windows. He remained there for two days, with bathroom visits allowed at specific times under beatings and insults, and the food was very poor.

On September 2, 2011, he was moved to a small room with others, where there were two cells. They were taken to a second room blindfolded and beaten, then chained and transported by bus to Mazzeh Military Airport. Upon arrival, they were received with beatings and insults, stripped of their clothes, and placed in solitary cells.

Ziad remained in a solitary cell for six days, with bathroom visits allowed at specific times under constant beatings and shouting. Once, when he requested to go to the bathroom, the jailer severely beat him for this request. During the first interrogation, he was blindfolded and handcuffed, subjected to electric shocks several times before being returned to his cell.

During the second interrogation, the interrogator asked if he had participated in the protests, and when he answered yes, the interrogator was surprised, expecting denial. Then he was asked about the slogans they chanted during the protests and accused Ziad of communicating with Arabic channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

The torture continued for a long time, as he was accused of treating the wounded in a field hospital, even though his town had not witnessed injuries related to the unrest. He was then transferred to a collective cell with 14 people, which eventually housed 28 people in a very small space of two meters by two and a half meters, containing a toilet and a sink. The situation was so dire that they had to sleep sideways to fit everyone.

Later, Ziad was moved to a larger cell containing about 50 people from various provinces. In this cell, he saw someone with a gunshot wound whose wound was covered with just a medical bandage without proper care. Another detainee with a spinal disc injury was tortured by hanging him on the cell door after wetting his body with water, leading to his death.

He was later transferred to the Fourth Division prison, where he was continuously beaten and insulted. On his last day, he was returned to Mazzeh Military Airport prison. He and fellow detainees had their head shaved and were told they would meet an important person. This person turned out to be Major General Jamil Hassan, who lectured them about patriotism and informed them that President Bashar al-Assad had pardoned them.

Ziad mentioned that he was detained during Hafez al-Assad's rule for three months, where he experienced the worst kinds of torture with electricity and water. He explained that violence and torture were systematic and practiced daily, especially during transfers between prisons and interrogations.

When asked about his assistance to other detainees, Ziad explained that as a pharmacist, he tried to provide some comfort to them despite the lack of medical tools. He confirmed that all the detainees in the cell were subjected to torture, and some came with hospital clothes bearing clear signs of torture. During his testimony, Ziad spoke about the terrible conditions in prison, where cells were overcrowded, and detainees suffered from hunger and the cold. Ziad also talked about the health and psychological effects he suffered due to the torture, noting that he had a brain hemorrhage after his release and remained in a coma for 16 days, and when he regained consciousness, he did not recognize his family.

At the end of his testimony, Ziad confirmed that it was impossible to file a complaint against what happened to him in Syria due to the arbitrary nature of the arrest and torture, noting that all detainees were subjected to the same harsh conditions and treatment.

Testimony of Ahmad Zalloul

Ahmad Zalloul could not attend the court in person, so the judge read his written testimony. Ahmad Zalloul works in the dental prosthetics industry and was arrested from a  Damascus neighborhood in which he participated in coordinating the revolution. Zalloul was responsible for two medical supply depots, coordinating between Damascus and other cities.

Ahmad Zalloul was arrested by Syrian Air Force Intelligence. Zalloul confirmed that the people with him in prison told him they were arrested by Air Force Intelligence. Zalloul remained in a very cramped space, a meter by a meter and a half, with 50 other people for a month and a half. They were allowed to go to the bathroom three times a day for 45 seconds each. They shared a bag of dry bread and showered once a week.

During his detention, Zalloul was subjected to various forms of brutal torture, including electric shocks and beating with a plastic pipe. He was also hung by his feet and beaten all over his body. When he was transferred to Mazzeh Military Airport, he was in a cell measuring 4x4 meters with 40 other people, where there was no space to rest, forcing some to stand while others sat. The conditions of torture continued, including electric shocks and beatings, to the extent that he was forced to drink his urine as a form of torture.

Zalloul mentioned that during interrogations, he was accused of providing weapons to the protesters, although he was only helping the revolutionaries with medical supplies. The scene in his cell was horrifying, as detainees were continuously beaten and whipped all over their bodies. Once, he was taken into an office blindfolded and told he would meet an important person, presumably Major General Jamil Hassan, but was told that even if President Bashar al-Assad came, he would not be released.

Ahmad Zalloul remained in Mazzeh prison until July 2012, then was transferred to Adra Central Prison and appeared before a judge there. There was a committee to try terrorists, and he was transferred to the Terrorism Court. In his second detention, he was transferred to the Palestine Branch, where he was tortured again and then placed in a cell next to women who were screaming in terror.

After his release, he discovered he had scabies and went to a psychiatrist in Beirut for treatment. Ahmad Zalloul stated that he feels better today.

Thursday session on May 23rd

Testimony of Abdul Rahman Hamada

In the session held on May 23, Abdul Rahman Hamada provided his detailed testimony about detention and torture by Syrian Air Force Intelligence. Abdul Rahman began by describing the raid on his home in April 2011. The house was searched, all tapes and CDs were taken, and he was arrested, blindfolded, and taken to the Air Force Intelligence center in Mazzeh.

Upon arrival at the center, the torture began immediately. Abdul Rahman described how he was tied with a plastic cable and his eyes were blindfolded with a cloth. He was severely beaten with a wooden stick from morning until evening on the same day he was arrested, to extract information about the whereabouts of Razan Zaitouneh and Wael Hamada, as Wael was his brother. Abdul Rahman confirmed that he did not know their location; otherwise, he would have confessed under the severe torture.

Abdul Rahman described the harsh conditions in the cell. They were allowed to go to the bathroom three times a day, each visit lasting only 45 seconds. He was wearing only his underwear and was beaten while going to and from the bathroom. Bathroom times were very limited, and they were tortured before and after bathroom visits. They had to ensure they left the bathroom dry to avoid being accused of performing ablution.

The torture continued for 40 days. In the last ten days, the torture was slightly eased. After being released from the cell, Abdul Rahman learned that his brother Wael was also arrested. He indicated that they were in the same place in the prison, separated by a corridor.

In his second arrest in 2012, Abdul Rahman was working with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression with Mazen Darwish. Abdul Rahman mentioned that the second arrest occurred on his birthday. Security and Air Force Intelligence elements raided the center’s office in Damascus, spending two hours discussing with him before arresting everyone and placing them in a bus without blindfolding them, allowing them to see their direction to the Air Force Intelligence branch.

Upon arrival, all their personal belongings were taken, and they were placed in cells measuring four by five meters. During the first three days, they underwent interrogation, then Mazen Darwish was moved from the collective cell and forced to sleep in the corridor. After that, Abdul Rahman and his companions were moved to a smaller cell measuring one meter by one and a half meters, where they could only sleep alternately due to the limited space.

Abdul Rahman described the severe torture in the Fourth Division, where they were chained and faced a line of jailers carrying different torture tools upon arrival. They were severely beaten with plastic and electric sticks. In the cell, they were forced to wear blindfolds, and the jailers continuously tortured them, with the sounds of electric sticks preceding the jailers’ entry.

Abdul Rahman explained that he was subjected to severe torture during most of his time in the Fourth Division, where the cell conditions were completely inhumane. The number of detainees in the cell reached 40 in a very tight space. During this period, he developed scabies, and diarrhea spread among the detainees due to food contamination, increasing their suffering.

One day, all detainees suffered from diarrhea due to consuming contaminated food, making the situation more difficult with continuous torture. He mentioned that regular shaving of the head was also used as a form of torture, conducted every six months in a humiliating manner.

During his interrogation, he was told that the reason for his arrest was his work with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and documenting regime crimes. He explained that he was released on bail the first time and paid a sum of money for his release the second time. He mentioned that two of his brothers were also arrested.

When asked about systematic torture, Abdul Rahman confirmed that torture was systematic and practiced brutally without any specific reason, noting that some prisoners were forced to torture others. After his release, he suffered from health and psychological problems, but he said he feels better now.

He concluded his testimony by saying that after his release from prison, he obtained residence in France and began studying the French language and working with the branch of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression there.

Testimony of Mahmoud Nasser

Mahmoud Nasser provided his testimony about detention and torture at Mazzeh Military Airport. Mahmoud began by describing his arrest on May 9, 2011, from his home in Moadamiya, Damascus, due to his and his family’s opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Air Force Intelligence elements raided his home and arrested him along with 1,200 others from Moadamiya, all taken to Mazzeh Military Airport, where they were placed in a very small room that could only accommodate 140 people, making the conditions completely inhumane.

During the initial investigations, Mahmoud was severely beaten on his front teeth without any questions being asked. As days passed, detainees were blindfolded all the time, unable to distinguish night from day, and were transferred between branches inside the airport. After a month, most detainees from Moadamiya were released, but he remained due to his father’s activism.

Mahmoud described the continuous torture conditions in the prison, where he was severely beaten and hung by his hands until his shoulder dislocated and his ligaments were torn. He recounted how his cellmates tried to help by relocating his shoulder after his torture. He also mentioned staying in the cell with prisoners from Daraa and other areas like Homs and Hama, who were regularly tortured and questioned about the whereabouts of their family members.

During one interrogation session, Mahmoud was called out specifically and taken into a room where he believed Major General Jamil Hassan was present. Jamil Hassan asked about his family and their whereabouts, and when he answered that he didn’t know, he ordered the guards to torture him. He was hung on an iron pole and forced to stand on his toes with his hands tied until the next morning. When he couldn’t lower his hands due to blood retention, one of the guards hit his right hand, causing ligament damage.

Mahmoud mentioned that during his detention, he witnessed children in the prison. There was a child named Ward, aged 9, who was arrested during a demonstration. Ward kept asking to see his mother and cried constantly. One day, Ward was taken out of the cell and interrogated.

Another child from Daraa was continuously tortured to the extent that he couldn’t feel his legs due to the torture.

After three months of detention, Mahmoud was transferred to the Criminal Security Branch, where he faced additional torture using electric shocks in sensitive areas and cigarette burns on his body. Mahmoud described how he and other detainees were forced to sign papers without knowing their contents, later discovering that they concerned the confiscation of their properties.

Mahmoud mentioned that during his detention, he met a judge for the first time, who read out confessions he hadn’t made, like stealing medical supplies and vandalizing streets and breaking Bashar al-Assad’s pictures. Mahmoud explained that these accusations were fabricated and he signed the papers under duress.

Mahmoud clarified that the torture was systematic and practiced brutally without any specific reason, noting that some prisoners were forced to torture others. After his release, he suffered from health and psychological problems, but he said he feels better now.

He concluded his testimony by talking about life conditions in Moadamiya, noting that it was besieged and a large part of its lands was seized by the Republican Guard and turned into militia gatherings. Mahmoud confirmed that the torture was systematic and that he and his family were targeted because of their opposition to the regime.

Testimony of Obaida Dabbagh

Obaida Dabbagh, brother of Mazen Dabbagh and uncle of Patrick Dabbagh, provided his testimony about the arrest of his brother and nephew. Obaida began by providing background information about his Syrian-French family, mentioning that they were five children, and he was the eldest, while Mazen was the youngest. He pointed out that their father was one of the founders of the Ba’ath Party with Michel Aflaq and had held important positions in the Syrian state, including Minister of Sports. Obaida talked about his father, who opposed the Ba’ath Party's approach after Hafez al-Assad came to power, which pushed him to work outside Syria after the Arab League moved to Tunisia. He explained that his father was not a clear opponent of the regime but was against the widespread corruption in the country.

Mazen, the youngest brother, was opposed to the regime since the beginning of the revolution. He was described as a beloved person, fond of humor, and had a friendly personality. He studied at the French high school in Damascus, married his neighbor Haifa Nasser, and had two children, Patrick and Raya. Mazen worked at the French school as an educational advisor and was known for his integrity and willingness to help.

On November 9, 2013, Obaida learned about the arrest of his brother and nephew. He narrated how Mazen’s wife, Haifa, informed him about the raid by Air Force Intelligence on their home and the arrest of Patrick first, when they took his electronic devices and told him it was just for questioning. The next day, they returned to arrest Mazen on charges of not raising his son properly.

Obaida described the moment of arrest, in which Mazen was wearing his pajamas and was forced to leave his home without changing clothes. Mazen’s brother-in-law, Wissam, was also arrested when he tried to intervene. The detainees were taken to the Air Force Intelligence, Mezzeh Branch where Patrick was tortured, and the last thing Wissam heard from Mazen was “Get me out, I’m suffocating.”

After their arrest, the family tried to communicate with their acquaintances in Syria to find out the fate of Mazen and Patrick, but to no avail. Even Obaida contacted the French police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that the situation was blocked due to the closure of the French embassy in Damascus.

In 2016, Haifa received an eviction order and the house was seized by people affiliated with the regime. It turned out that Abdul Salam Mahmoud, an officer in the Air Force Intelligence, seized the house in collaboration with Ahmed Ismail, the son of a lawyer affiliated with the regime. They divided the apartment into two parts and seized it illegally, and Obaida obtained documents proving this seizure.

Obaida talked about his continuous efforts to find out the fate of his brother and nephew, trying to contact French parliamentarians and meeting some of them in the National Assembly, but the Syrian authorities did not respond to any communications. In 2016, the International Federation for Human Rights contacted Obaida and informed him that they would assist with the case.

Obaida mentioned that he hired a lawyer from the Alawite sect in Syria to facilitate his movement, who managed to prove the seizure of the family’s properties and to obtain documents indicating Mazen’s death. Despite this, some individuals tried to extort large sums of money Mazen’s release of Mazen, but Obaida refused because he had documents proving Mazen’s death.

Obaida talked about Haifa and Raya’s fear of participating in any investigations due to their presence in Syria and fear of retaliation. He explained that Haifa was in touch with acquaintances in Damascus to verify any information about Mazen and Patrick but received no accurate information.

He concluded his testimony by emphasizing the importance of the trial in achieving justice, not only for Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh but also for the thousands of Syrians who met a similar fate. Obaida confirmed that Mazen was devoted to his family and had a special bond with his son Patrick, who was shy and gentle. He pointed out that his fight for justice was difficult, but he never gave up.

Obaida Dabbagh expressed his profound distress and confusion at not understanding the real reason behind the arrest of his brother and nephew. He felt helpless in the face of this injustice, pointing out that Mazen posed no threat; he was a life-loving person dedicated to serving the community through his work at the French school. Obaida stressed that he could not comprehend how someone like Mazen could end up meeting such a tragic fate.

Testimony of Hanan Shar'a Dabbagh

Hanan, Obaida's wife, provided her testimony about her attempts to find out the fate of Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh. Hanan explained that she worked with people in Syria and contacted them to obtain information about Mazen and Patrick's whereabouts. She mentioned that she contacted a woman she knew, but the woman stopped responding after a while.

Hanan explained that she was from Daraa, where the revolution began. She referred to the incident in which 180 children were arrested in Daraa, had their nails pulled out, and how the families were threatened to forget their children. She said she was born in Damascus, lived in Daraa for a while, and then moved back to Damascus to work.

Hanan spoke about her visits to Syria and how she saw her detained family members. She mentioned her cousin, who worked as a tailor in Daraa and was threatened with his young daughter. Later, she found his picture among the "Caesar" photos, although she noted that he had never participated in the demonstrations.

Hanan stated that Mazen, whose mother was French and had lived in both France and Syria, was afraid of everything due to the situation in Syria. She confirmed that Obaida was alone in his struggle, as Mazen's family did not participate in the search for him due to threats they had received.

Hanan stressed the need to stop the Syrian regime from practicing torture and expressed her deep distress over what happened to her cousin and Mazen. She explained that the security in Syria is directed to protect the regime, not the people, and described Bashar al-Assad as a criminal for using chemical weapons.

Hanan mentioned that her husband Obaida was ill due to the anxiety caused by these events and that initially, she was not a civil party due to fear but later decided to stand by Obaida in his battle. She talked about the memorial service held for Mazen, attended by many Syrian and French friends, despite the absence of a body.

She concluded her testimony by expressing her relief at being here today and talking about these matters, confirming that it was a significant step for her.

Testimony of Mazen Darwish

Mazen Darwish, representing the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and a torture survivor at Mazzeh Military Airport, provided his testimony, confirming that torture and enforced disappearances in Syria are not new but have been practices of the regime since it seized power. He pointed out that the regime uses these methods as tools to control the people, from the events of Hama in 1982 to the present day.

Darwish explained that the Syrian regime relies on four main security agencies: Military Intelligence, General Intelligence Directorate (State Security), Air Force Intelligence, and Political Security Directorate. These agencies operate under the direct supervision of the National Security Bureau, which reports to the president, enhancing the regime's central control. These security agencies are not merely tools of repression but are institutions operating under a highly centralized and sectarian structure.

Darwish added that the regime uses exceptional courts such as the Counter-Terrorism Court and the Military Field Court. These courts are not part of the traditional judiciary but are tools for legitimizing arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. He noted that after 2011, with the increasing security turmoil in Syria, local militias linked to the regime emerged, managing secret prisons.

Darwish described the case of Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh as part of the vast numbers of victims, noting that there are over a million arbitrary detainees in Syria, including women and children. He pointed out that the Caesar photos displayed included images of women subjected to torture and that sexual violations were used as a war tool.

Darwish talked about his personal experience in detention after the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression office was raided by Air Force Intelligence on February 16, 2012, and employees were taken to Mazzeh Military Airport. They were tortured in various ways, including electric shocks and beating with plastic rods. He noted that the conditions in the cells were inhumane, with over 100 people crammed into a small space without ventilation or medical care.

Darwish stated that he spent 60 days at Mazzeh Military Airport, subjected to continuous torture. He was interrogated by officers, including Jamil Hassan, and asked about his political views on Bashar al-Assad. He explained that the torture was extremely brutal, involving beatings with plastic pipes and electric shocks.

He then talked about the conditions of detention in the Fourth Division, where he spent six months without any investigation but was subjected to daily torture using electric rods and wooden sticks. He pointed out that the torture was not only physical but also psychological. He described being forced to stand in the torture yard to hear the screams of other detainees and experiencing collective diarrhea due to contaminated food, which increased their suffering.

Darwish described an incident where a detainee in poor health was not given necessary medical care, prompting them to go on strike until he was transferred to a hospital. After this strike, Darwish was transferred to the Fourth Division, where he faced further torture, this time with wooden sticks. He was also taken to the Air Force Intelligence headquarters at Al-Tahrir Square, where he experienced a new type of torture, including continuous beatings until he lost consciousness.

Darwish pointed out that torture in Syria aims not only to extract confessions but to break detainees physically and psychologically. He talked about continuous torture experiences, including beatings with electric rods and plastic pipes and sometimes being forced to stay naked in the freezing cold.

He then discussed the frequent transfers between prisons, mentioning his experience moving between the Fourth Division prison, Adra Prison, Sweida Prison, Hama Central Prison, the General Intelligence Directorate, and civil prisons. He confirmed that this process is an example of widespread enforced disappearances in Syria.

Darwish concluded his testimony by emphasizing the importance of this trial in achieving justice, not only for Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh but also for the thousands of Syrians who met a similar fate. He confirmed that justice is not revenge but a means to prevent retaliation and uphold victims' rights. He called for the establishment of a national transitional justice process in Syria, noting that families of the missing need to know the fate of their loved ones.

Darwish said, "All thanks and gratitude to Mr. Obaida and Hanan for their efforts. This case is important not only for Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh but for all the detainees and tortured individuals. Justice is not revenge but to prevent revenge. Hundreds of victims deserve justice." He added that European courts are not the justice we seek but a beginning to achieve justice in Syria and obtain redress for the victims. "We are lucky to be alive," Darwish said, pointing out that many detainees did not return to their families.

Friday session on May 24th

Pleading by Plaintiff Lawyers Clémence Bectart and Patrick Baudouin

Plaintiff lawyer Clémence Bectart began her plea before the court by expressing her great honor to represent Obaida and Hanan Dabbagh and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. She confirmed that the journey had been long and arduous to reach this day and that the hope for achieving justice for Syrians who suffered from brutal repression remained alive.

Bectart pointed out that the Syrian regime used violence and intimidation to silence those demanding their rights, leading to widespread fear among Syrian families. She spoke about the courage Obaida Dabbagh showed in his quest to find out the fate of his brother and nephew and whether they could retrieve their bodies if they had died. She said, "All Syrians are afraid to ask for their rights."

Bectart explained that this trial signifies the end of brutal repression against Syrians and represents an opportunity to achieve justice. She added that Obaida Dabbagh tried all possible means in France, through organizations, the Red Cross, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to find out the fate of Mazen and Patrick, but he realized that the path to justice was the best.

Bectart praised the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, which, since the beginning of the revolution sought to expose the repression and crimes committed against human rights in Syria. She referred to Mazen Darwish's testimony, who spoke about his arrest and torture, and Majed's testimony, which included details about the insults and torture he faced.

Bectart spoke about the conditions of detainees in Syrian prisons and how they are stripped of their humanity upon entering the detention centers. She referred to testimonies from former detainees describing harsh torture and detention conditions, including overcrowding in cells and systematic torture. Bectart confirmed that Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh were in the Air Force Intelligence center at Mazzeh and that testimonies from former detainees described that the corridors of Mazzeh were filled with detainees who died, leaving their bodies there.

She pointed out that Patrick's last words to his father were "Don't worry, I'm fine," while Mazen's last words were "Get me out, I'm suffocating."

Bectart spoke about the importance of this trial in achieving justice, not only for Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh but for all Syrians who suffered from repression and torture. She mentioned that this trial is the first of its kind in France to recognize enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity, setting an important legal precedent.

Bectart confirmed that torture in Syria did not start in 2011 but has been an old practice of the regime, becoming more systematic afterward. She pointed out that torture includes various practices such as rape, stripping, and psychological torture, affirming that "all Caesar's photos testify to the torture that occurred in Assad's prisons."

In conclusion, Bectart emphasized that the expected verdict in this case should be firm against the three defendants: Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud. She confirmed that this verdict would mean a lot to the Dabbagh family and would give them a sense that justice had been achieved and that the crimes of the Syrian regime were acknowledged. She said, "This verdict is an acknowledgment of all the regime's crimes, and these crimes are not from the past but the present."

The second plaintiff lawyer, Patrick Baudouin, expressed his happiness to stand before the court representing French justice. He confirmed that this trial is an important step towards achieving justice for the victims and their families, noting that the French League for Human Rights always fights against injustice and for international justice.

Baudouin spoke about a long history of international trials against crimes against humanity, pointing out that the current trial is not only for torture but also for enforced disappearance. He confirmed that this trial takes a significant step towards shedding light on the continuous crimes of the Syrian regime, saying, "As long as Assad remains in power, the struggle must continue to fight this regime."

Baudouin concluded by emphasizing that this trial reflects the perseverance of Syrians towards justice and ending impunity, stressing that justice is a long and slow path but moves forward towards achieving justice for the victims and ending suffering. He confirmed, "I have never seen brutality in torture like the brutality spoken about by Syrians in their testimonies."

Baudouin concluded by noting the importance of this trial in achieving justice, confirming that this verdict will not be just for Mazen and Patrick but for all Syrians who suffered from repression and torture. He mentioned that this trial means a lot to the Dabbagh family, giving them a sense of redress.

Requests by the Public Prosecutor

The public prosecutor began by expressing regret that Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud did not attend the court to explain what happened, confirming that they were being tried in absentia today. She explained that during the investigation period, all efforts were made to notify them of this case, asking them to attend or send a lawyer on their behalf, but to no avail. She added that since 2018, a search warrant had been issued for them, yet it was not responded to.

The public prosecutor confirmed that these individuals, who were symbols of the regime, showed contempt for justice, which is astonishing. She stressed the need to punish them to restore justice for the Dabbagh family. She said, "It is not easy in these circumstances for these people to remain unpunished." She pointed out that intelligence elements still occupy the Dabbagh family's house in Damascus to this day.

The public prosecutor demanded a life sentence for Jamil Hassan, Ali Mamlouk, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud as they do not enjoy immunity like the President and do not represent the sovereignty of the state. She added that the crimes they committed against Mazen and Patrick are crimes against humanity, and these crimes were committed against many men and women to maintain Bashar al-Assad's hold on power.

The public prosecutor detailed how Mazen and Patrick were arrested, confirming that Air Force Intelligence carried out the arrest, according to a call the investigator had with Raya Dabbagh and Mazen Darwish. She added that the torture Mazen and Patrick suffered was systematic, citing the Caesar photos, and emphasized that these crimes were systematic and widespread.

She explained that torture under international law can be physical or moral, pointing out that Patrick and Mazen were tortured, and Wissam confirmed seeing the signs of torture on Patrick's neck and hearing Mazen saying, "Get me out, I'm suffocating."

The public prosecutor then addressed the issue of enforced disappearance, explaining that the Syrian regime used this method as part of its repression, not providing any information about detainees to their families, increasing their suffering.

The public prosecutor confirmed the responsibility of Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud for crimes against humanity, noting that Ali Mamlouk supervised all intelligence and knew everything happening in the detention centers, Jamil Hassan personally oversaw the torture, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud was the head of the investigation branch and participated in the torture.

The Verdict

The court ruled that Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud participated and colluded in crimes against humanity against Syrian civilians, including torture, enforced disappearance, and seizing Mazen Dabbagh's property. They were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the court confirmed that the  arrest warrant issued against them would remain open.

The court concluded that the crimes committed against Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh were not isolated incidents but part of a broader pattern of systematic repression practiced by the Syrian regime against the Syrian people. The court noted that the three defendants were convicted in absentia and could appeal the decision if they wished.

This verdict represents a significant step towards achieving justice for the victims and their families and sends a strong message against impunity, confirming that justice can be achieved even under difficult circumstances.


The French court's life sentence against Syrian officials Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdul Salam Mahmoud is a significant step towards achieving international justice and holding those responsible for crimes against humanity accountable. This verdict, resulting from a thorough investigation and compelling testimonies from survivors and relatives of the victims, reinforces the hope that perpetrators of heinous crimes will not escape punishment.

While this verdict is a victory for justice, it also highlights the ongoing challenges in pursuing accountability for human rights violations in Syria. There are still many aspects that require addressing, including supporting survivors and ensuring that these crimes are not repeated.

The verdict sends a strong message that the world will not overlook atrocities committed and that justice will pursue the perpetrators no matter how long it takes.

This trial should serve as a catalyst for the international community to continue pressing for accountability for all responsible for crimes against humanity in Syria and working to provide necessary support to the victims and their families to achieve full justice and redress. The verdict confirms that international justice can bring about change and plays a crucial role in combating impunity and promoting human rights.

By: Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.



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