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In this photo released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad takes the oath of office for a fourth seven-year term, at the Syrian Presidential Palace in the capital Damascus, Syria, Saturday, July 17, 2021.
In this photo released by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad takes the oath of office for a fourth seven-year term, at the Syrian Presidential Palace in the capital Damascus, Syria, Saturday, July 17, 2021. (Syrian Presidency via Facebook via AP)

BERLIN — German prosecutors charged a Syrian doctor living in Germany with crimes against humanity on Wednesday, alleging he tortured people in military hospitals in Syria after they were detained for participating in anti-government demonstrations.

The doctor, identified only as Alaa M by German authorities, is the third Syrian living in Germany to be charged with committing state-sponsored atrocities during uprisings against President Bashar Assad.

One Syrian was convicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in a landmark ruling earlier this year — further raising Germany's profile as a hub for war crimes trials.

Alaa M had come to Syria as a refugee in 2015 and had been practicing medicine in Germany before his arrest in June 2020, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, the doctor committed numerous acts of torture in two military-run hospitals in Damascus and Homs against people who had been injured in anti-Assad demonstrations. At least two of the victims died, the indictment said.

The alleged acts of brutality included hanging prisoners from the ceiling and beating them with sticks, igniting flammable liquid poured on prisoners' injuries and abuse to prisoners' genitals.

In two instances, the doctor allegedly doused the genitals of detainees with alcohol and set fire to them. One of the victims was a "14- or 15-year-old boy," the indictment said.

A man who had an epileptic seizure after his detention was punched in the face, hit with a plastic tube and kicked in the head, the charges alleged. The man died a few days later.

Another prisoner who tried to defend himself was allegedly beaten with a baton, pinned to the ground and injected with an unknown substance, which killed him within minutes.

Mousa's medical training in Syria had largely been recognized by Germany's State Medical Association, according to German press reports. He had been training to become a specialist in orthopedics and trauma surgery in the western state of Hessen, Hessische Niedersächsische Allgemeine newspaper reported. He then went on to Bavaria.

"In the workforce, he was seen as inconspicuous, sensitive, calm and reserved," Matthias Adler, commercial director of Lichtenau eV, an orthopedic clinic where he worked, told the newspaper.

The evidence on which the charges are based was not specified and the Federal Prosecutors Office did not respond to calls Wednesday. But in an earlier case, the witnesses included Syrian refugees living in Germany.

Germany's legal system has become a testing ground for seeking justice for crimes committed in the world's conflict zones.

It is one of dozens of countries in the world with laws incorporating aspects of universal jurisdiction, a legal principle that holds that some crimes are so grave that they should be allowed to be tried anywhere.

However, German laws, unlike in some other countries, do not require that victims are citizens or residents, legal experts said.

Germany threw its doors open to more than 1 million refugees, mainly Syrians, in 2015. The influx included witnesses, victims and alleged perpetrators of war crimes, making it easier to prosecute cases.

The first two alleged former Syrian regime officers who went to trial last year were accused of perpetrating and aiding crimes against humanity.

Eyad al-Gharib, the less senior of the two, was sentenced in February. The trial is ongoing for Anwar Raslan, alleged to have been head of investigations at a branch of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate and suspected of links to 58 instances of murder, rape and other sexual assault.

The Washington Post's Sly reported from London.

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