BEIRUT, Lebanon — A court in Germany convicted a former Syrian security officer on Wednesday of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for his role in arresting and transporting protesters to an interrogation center known for torture nearly a decade ago.
The defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in a case that rights groups have hailed as a landmark in the effort to ensure justice for crimes committed by Syrian officials during the country’s civil war.
As the Syrian war nears its 10th anniversary, the country is sinking into a profound economic crisis, with poverty and hunger spreading. But President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.
A sense of hopelessness about achieving justice within Syria has led rights campaigners to focus on European courts, many of which can try foreigners for war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Often working with Syrian refugees in Europe, the groups have identified suspects who have also sought refuge in Europe and tracked down witnesses to testify about crimes committed in Syria.
While European courts had previously sentenced low-ranking Syrian soldiers, Wednesday’s case was the first in which such a court has convicted a former Syrian official over crimes against humanity.
Mr. al-Gharib, 44, entered Germany in April 2018 and was arrested along with a midlevel Syrian intelligence officer, Anwar Raslan, in February 2019.
The two men were put on trial together at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz in April 2020, but Mr. al-Gharib’s case was peeled off this month because the prosecution had no more evidence to present against him. Mr. Raslan’s trial continues.
Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.