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French court issues life sentences to three senior Syrian officials for war crimes 

washington — A court in the French capital on Friday ordered life sentences for three senior Syrian government officials in a landmark case. 

After a four-day trial, the Paris Criminal Court said three Syrian officials had been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war-torn country. 

The case against Ali Mamlouk, former director of Syria’s National Security Bureau; Jamil Hassan, former head of the air force intelligence directorate; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of the air force intelligence’s branch in Damascus, was based on their role in the deaths of two French nationals of Syrian origin. 

The two Frenchmen, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, were arrested in Damascus in 2013. The two were declared dead in 2018. The family was formally notified that Patrick had died in 2014 and that Mazzen had died in 2017. 

The three Syrian officials were tried in absentia. This was the first time a trial of Syrian government officials had been held in France. The court’s ruling on Friday also upheld international arrest warrants against the Syrian officials that were issued in 2018. 

Anwar al-Bunni, a Germany-based Syrian human rights lawyer, said Friday’s ruling was “historic,” and he noted it would have significant political implications for the Syrian government.  

 

“This ruling will prevent any future efforts to normalize with the Syrian regime, especially since one of the officials prosecuted is Ali Mamlouk, who currently serves as a presidential adviser,” he told VOA.

Ninar Khalifa, a researcher at Syrians for Truth and Justice, a France-based advocacy group, said the defendants could appeal the court’s decision only if they attended in person.  

 

“But the fact that the verdict included crimes against humanity shows that the entire Syrian regime has been involved in persecuting people in Syria,” she told VOA. “This is not only about three officials. It’s against the military hierarchy of the Syrian regime from top to bottom.” 

 

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of committing atrocities against civilians since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011.  

 

The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population of 22 million. The U.N. says more than 7 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while the others have fled to other countries.

Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, or SCM, testified on the final day of the hearings. 

 

“This quest for justice to which we all aspire is in no way revenge. On the contrary, justice in general is there to prevent violence. We cannot destroy this terror and prevent this from happening again without justice putting an end to impunity,” Darwish said in his testimony on Friday, according to a post by SCM on social media platform X. 

 

Darwish testified in the case as a witness since he himself had been arrested by the same Syrian intelligence agency that was responsible for the Dabbaghs’ arrests and during the same period of their imprisonments. He was released from a Damascus prison in 2015 after serving a three-year sentence for his political activism.   

Other trials against former Syrian government officials have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany. But in those cases, the prosecuted officials held lower ranks in the Syrian government and were present at the hearings. 

 

This report originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service. Some information came from Agence France-Presse.

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