In landmark case, Germany charges two former Syrian intelligence officials with crimes against humanity
The two men were arrested in February together with a third suspect in France in a coordinated operation by German and French police, the federal prosecutor's office in the German city of Karlsruhe said.
The suspects, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, both left Syria in 2012.
Raslan, who allegedly led an investigative unit with its own prison in the Damascus area targeting members of the Syrian opposition, is "suspected of complicity in crimes against humanity" in charges filed on 22 October, the prosecutors said in a statement.
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"In this context he is also accused of murder in 58 cases, rape and aggravated sexual assault" in the jail where more than 4,000 prisoners suffered "brutal and massive torture" from April 2011 to September 2012.
Gharib, a former officer who had manned checkpoints and allegedly hunted protesters, had allegedly aided and abetted two killings and the physical abuse of at least 30 people in the autumn of 2011, prosecutors said.
'Memory culture' and accountability
The historic ruling is one of roughly a dozen Germany is working on to bring perpetrators of Syria's war crimes who have fled to Europe, to accountability.
Using a legal doctrine known as universal jurisdiction, German prosecutors in national courts can bring cases for war crimes from outside its borders.
Germany sees itself as having a role in bringing Syria's war criminals to justice in order to support and protect the 800,000 Syrian refugees it hosts, many of whom are traumatised from their treatment at the hands of the Assad regime.
Germany also credits its "memory culture" - having to reckon with its Nazi and communist pasts - for its willingness to push for accountability in other cases.
Moreover, Syria was closely allied with East Germany, the Stasi having trained the Syrian intelligence service who both ran brutal regimes that relied on torture and other forms of violence.
Syrian refugee communities in Europe have welcomed the prosecution, the trials being the first time Syrian witnesses can testify their experiences of torture under Assad's regime in court.
Several other legal cases are now pending in Germany against the Assad regime.
Last year, German prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, a top Syrian official who headed the notorious airforce intelligence directorate and is accused of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.
Welcoming Tuesday's charges, the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights said: "The first trial worldwide about state torture in Syria is expected to start in Germany in early 2020 – an important step in the fight against impunity".
Agencies contributed to this report.