Syrian refugees in Germany file war crime charges against Assad regime
The 13 Syrian men and women named 17 suspects they considered "most responsible for Assad's brutal policies of repression", said non-profit legal organisation the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
The complaint, which seeks international arrest warrants, was filed under the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows German courts to handle cases where neither the victims nor the perpetrators are German citizens.
Read more: Syria's prisoners: Absent but never forgotten
"For me, the criminal complaint in Germany is currently the only way to fight for justice," said one plaintiff, Yazan Awad, 30, who recalled being tortured for months at the al-Mezzeh Air Force intelligence investigation branch.
"It's not just about me, it's about all those who are still being held in Assad's torture prisons."
Awad said he was arrested for anti-regime activism in November 2011 with three friends and, while in custody, beaten with cables and nail-studded sticks by guards who also broke his jaw.
"I can still hear their voices now, their screams," he told AFP about his fellow inmates, his voice shaking. "I can hear the sound of the hits on their bodies".
"We need justice now," Awad said. "It's my dream to free all the detainees."
Shappal Ibrahim, 40, who said he was held for one-and-a-half years at the Saydnaya military prison, said he wanted "to help ensure that the German authorities issue arrest warrants for the people responsible".
|I can still hear their voices now, their screams. I can hear the sound of the hits on their bodies.
The Syrian Kurd and father of four told AFP in fluent German that in captivity he suffered "beatings without interruption for three to four hours" at a time and was also tormented with electric shocks.
"We were naked when it was very cold, we had almost nothing to eat, we were sometimes deprived of water for three days, and we were blindfolded," said Ibrahim, who claimed he lost nearly half his weight during his detention.
The prison near Damascus had become "a synonym for unimaginable torture, systematic degradation and mass executions", said the ECCHR, which cooperated on the case with Syrian lawyers Anwar Al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish.
Rights group Amnesty International has accused the Assad regime of carrying out up to 13,000 hangings in five years in the prison.
German and French prosecutors are already looking into claims of torture committed under Assad since 2011.
A Syrian defector code-named "Caesar", who says he is a former military police photographer, has handed tens of thousands of digital images that he says show 11,000 dead detainees and handed them to investigators, including in Germany.
In an earlier case in Germany last March, seven Syrian torture survivors backed by the same initiative filed a complaint seeking international arrest warrants against six Syrian secret service officials.
According to witness testimony, the prisoners were beaten with pipes, sticks and meat hooks on chains, given electric shocks, burnt with cleaning chemicals and stabbed with pencils.
The ECCHR's Wolfgang Kaleck said the legal complaints might yield results years down the road, citing the case of Chile's 1973-90 dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 under an international arrest warrant for human rights abuses, although he was released on grounds of ill health and returned to Chile in 2000.