2017 | Al Kawakibi report on the Case of Mohammed Abdullah in Sweden
In this report, the Al Kawakibi Human Right organization details their efforts to bring Mohammed Abdullah to justice in Sweden, his country of asylum.Abdullah was convicted of violating the personal dignity of dead and injured persons by posing in military uniform among their scattered bodies on the ground, with his foot resting on a man’s body. Although the question of reparation is not raised in the case, the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes committed in the context of war constitutes a preliminary reparatory measure. It represents the availability of access to justice and a commitment to accountability for war crimes.
Among the various legal cases for crimescommitted in Syria, few cases to date have targeted people belonging to the regime forces and its allies, while most of the cases in the host countries have focused on people who had fought with armed opposition and ISIS groups. The case of Mohammed Abdullah represents one of the first casesin which a former regime forces soldier is held accountable for war crimes committed in Syria. This is one of several recent cases relying on universal jurisdiction. Others have been mounted in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The idea behind universal jurisdiction is that any state may mount a prosecution against a person accused of involvement in war crimes committed on any territory, even if neither the accused nor his victims has the nationality of the court hosting the trial.
Mohammed Abdullah arrived in Sweden requesting asylum, claiming fear of persecution in Syria for belonging to the Alawite sect. The Al Kawakibi organization and several Syrian activists involved in tracking regime soldiers in Europe appealed the asylum request by Mohammed Abdullah, providing evidence of his involvement in fighting in Syria alongside regime forces. At his first interrogation, Mohammed Abdullah claimed to have been forced by his superior officers to pose on camera among the injured, for propaganda purposes. He maintained that he had not participated in any fighting, but was involved in military actions as a medicalofficer only and had carried no weapon. The Swedish Prosecutor released him for lackof sufficient evidence.
Al Kawakibi gathered further evidence in the form of Facebook posts in which Mohammed Abdullah described his involvement in fighting with the Assad regime forces as ‘a badge of honor.’They also proved that Mohammed Abdullah had fought not merely with the Syrian regime’s regular forces, which, due to the lack of manpower, had relied onconscripts, but with the National Defence Forces - an elite militia comprising people with a greater commitment tothe ideology of the regime and the Bath party. They argued that Abdullah’s claim of having been forced to take pictures for propaganda reasons was not credible. They also urged that his release would hinder future prosecution, showing that his passport already contained several stamps demonstrating Abdullah’s capacity to leave Sweden.
Mohammed Abdullah was ultimately sentenced to eight months inprison for violating the personal dignity of the victims in the picture. Given the lack of witnesses and the impossibility of knowing whether the victims were dead or only severely injured, and whether Mohammed Abdullah had played any role in harming them, the Swedish Prosecutor could not ask for a stronger sentence.