LANSING, Mich. – Roadside food distribution back to Holt’s First Presbyterian Church. While the students were on their spring break, the church increased to feed needy families. They call it Neighbor-to-Neigh Food Distribution for Spring Break.
On Thursday, April 8, families can drive to church and receive non-perishable food, such as dry food, cereal, and canned goods. The event will run from 4pm to 6pm while supplies last. It will be contact free to help with the COVID protocol. The residents don’t need to get out of the car, the church will send them grocery bags.
“This is a donation from the Holt and Dimondale communities and the Holt First Presbyterian Church of Holt. It’s aimed at our neighbors and as long as we have food, we won’t turn anyone away, “said Reverend Kirk Miller.
Anyone wishing to donate food before Thursday, the church will accept donations during business hours from 9am to 4pm.
Luna, who requested that her real name not be identified, spent more than 60 days in the courtroom, expecting answers, justice – and reliving painful experiences. “I remember what happened to me,” he said. “When I had to hear the same details about torture from witnesses, it was very difficult for me.”
Across the banks of the Rhine from her home in Koblenz is the very familiar courthouse for Luna, who has two children. In April 2020, two former members of the Syrian secret service were tried there for crimes against humanity. The trial is the first of its kind: an attempt to illuminate Syria’s brutal system by holding its agents abroad accountable.
A witness even testified about the severe abuse he experienced at the hands of the prison guards who also tortured Luna. When Luna talked about her life in Syria during the revolution that gripped her homeland 10 years ago, she was sitting in her little living room in Koblenz, a city on the banks of the Rhine. She talked about the dire conditions of the prison, about how she was crammed into a cell no more than 10 square meters (110 square feet) with up to 20 other women.
Crimes against humanity
Luna was in court on Wednesday, when the first verdict was issued. He did not miss a day from the trial – not a witness, not an expert witness.
One of the witnesses was the man Luna called the “gravedigger.” He appeared in mid-September – anonymous, out of concern for family members in Syria – which is why he was introduced as a witness to “Z 30/07/19” at the trial.
The former employee of the Damascus funeral administration described how, during the years before his escape, he was forced by the intelligence services to transport the body and bury it in a mass grave. She had to do this several times a week, several hundred corpses each time, many of which showed signs of severe abuse.
Then there is the “photo of Caesar”: A Syrian military photographer who for two years had to take photos of people who died in custody due to the state’s death bureaucracy, secretly making copies. He smuggled it out of the country – and turned it over to the German federal prosecutor’s office. Markus Rothschild, a forensic pathologist from Cologne, analyzed tens of thousands of images of people tortured and starved to death – and presented his findings in a Koblenz courtroom for two days in early November. Luna said the images presented in court, and the explanations that accompany them, are difficult to bear.
Then there was torture that Luna was talking to during the negotiation break. “He showed me the video he took in the hospital, with all his injuries,” he said. “It looks like a photo of Caesar, but he’s still alive.”
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty
Housewives, citizen journalists, prisoners
Luna was apolitical before the first demonstrations against the Bashar al-Assad regime started in March 2011. “I don’t know what’s going on in this country. I am not for the government or against it, ”he said. But then the law graduate started reading: Books on Syrian history; the books he studied on the crimes of the Assad family; books that made him understand why people took to the streets. After four or five months of intense reading, Luna joined the demonstration. And he is involved in helping refugees coming to Damascus from other parts of the country.
On a friend’s suggestion, Luna became a citizen journalist. For a year, he studied the online journalism trade, with the help of the organization Suara Syria. He wanted to do something to counter the regime’s monopoly on information. Under the pseudonym Luna, she started a program on an online station in mid-2013. “It was about a dead person found in Damascus,” he recalls. “But nobody knows who they are. I spread information about these people, and when relatives hear about it, they can call and say, ‘This is my father or son.’ “
Luna set up a security authority radar in connection with a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus, Eastern Ghouta in August 2013. In collaboration with acquaintances from the suburbs, Luna decided to document this massacre. “We take lots of photos, and we take videos. I used it myself to document 800 names of victims. “He sent this explosive to the Syrian opposition abroad.” It was on the USB stick. “That’s when the intelligence services started looking for Luna.
About four months later, it happened. Towards the end of 2013, Luna was on the road in Damascus, helping people who had fled to Damascus from another city because of the civil war that had broken out in the meantime. Three cars stopped, more than a dozen security guards got out. Someone asked his name, his ID. “Then they took me to one of the cars,” he recalls. “They covered my eyes with my scarf, so I couldn’t see where we were going. They took me to department 40. That is the department where Eyad A. worked for a long time. “
Eyad A. is one of the defendants at Koblenz’s trial, who accepted his verdict this Wednesday.
However, at the time of Luna’s arrest, he had already fled and fled abroad. Later, Luna was sent to Al-Khatib’s prison of torture called department 251, which is called “hell on earth”. It was there that the second defendant, Anwar R., was once the interrogator. But he, too, had left Syria a long time ago. That’s why Luna did not become a witness at the trial. He is an observer, reporting on the trial for the Arab media.
Psychological terror and fear for her children
During hours of interrogation, Luna denied the accusations. Secret service agents go with her to search her apartment, where her laptop reveals that she is Luna.
Now the agents want the name of the maid. He said no one else, that he was working alone. “Then one of the officers said, ‘OK, you don’t want to cooperate? Then we will arrest your sons and daughters! ‘They brought my son before me – and that was the worst thing I’ve ever had. “
At the same time, he also heard instructions on the radio to catch his daughter at school. “Since then, I haven’t seen my children. But during all the interrogation they threatened: ‘Tell us what we want to know, otherwise we will get your children and torture them in front of you.’ That’s the worst. Not torture on me, but worry about my children; I don’t know where they are, if possible they are somewhere in the same section. “
For about two months Luna was a secret service detainee, in three different departments. Then he was transferred to a regular prison. There he was allowed to contact his family for the first time since his arrest. The secret service has been playing a psychological terror game, she finds out: Her son is taken away just for the show, and no one goes to his daughter’s school.
Koblenz’s new home
When Luna was released after 13 months in prison, her lawyer advised her to run away. She wanted to live with her children, but the pressure was so great that Luna eventually fled to Turkey. From there, he traveled to Germany via the Balkans, like many other Syrian refugees. A few moments later, his children fled to Turkey. Once Luna is recognized as an asylum seeker, she can bring her children to Germany under the asylum regulations that allow family reunification. And he came to Koblenz, where he now lives.
Then of all places, the western German city of 100,000 inhabitants became the trial site for Eyad A. and Arwan R. For Luna, “the trial is the first time we have had the opportunity to talk about our experience. This is only a small step towards justice, but it is very important! “As a journalist, he said, he tried to remain neutral even though he was personally influenced and not prejudiced against the two defendants.” But of course it’s strange to see them all the time, “he said.” And that we, as survivors, are now in a position that is strong; and they, Anwar R. and Eyad A., are the defendants. “
But the situation of the defendants is not comparable to what will happen in Syria, said Luna as she sipped a cup of black tea, considering how completely she was without rights herself. And what rights can Anwar R. and Eyad A. claim in Germany. At the same time, it is important for Luna to note one thing: That she did not want the defendants to experience the same as she or the witnesses who were present at the trial. No one has to experience something like that.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to bring the issue back into the spotlight this week on his video podcast, outlines “his government’s plan of action [for the] Belarusian civil society. “
Merkel said she came to admire the “unwavering” nature of opposition protesters in the face of sometimes violent government oppression. Providing protection for politicians or activists fleeing the country will be a core component of Germany’s action plan, he said.
“With that, the persecuted opposition and people who need humanity will more easily receive visas and asylum with us,” said Merkel. “We want to help victims of torture who are traumatized, but also provide scholarships or grants and to support independent media.”
The scope of activities is not clear
Speaking to DW about the extent of the plan, a junior minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Michael Berger, said it was too early to discuss how many people from Belarus might hope to take refuge in Germany.
“We have just agreed within the federal government to initiate such a program. And of course we will pay special attention to people affected by acute distress, who no longer see their own future in Belarus because of state repression. initially, it’s going to be the focus, “said Berger.
The chancellor also touched on the front lines of the Belarusian opposition in his comments, mentioning both his recent meeting with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Berlin and the fact that fellow activist Maria Kolesnikova was “locked up in prison like so many others” and unable to leave the country.
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Berlin in October, also having an audience with Chancellor Merkel away from the camera
It targets a total of 88 individuals and seven entities in the country, including Lukashenko and his sons, with restrictions including travel bans within the EU and asset freezes where possible. EU citizens and companies are also prohibited from providing funds to registered persons and entities.
Merkel admitted in her video podcast that the extra German effort in addition to EU action “will not resolve the conflict between justice and oppression in Belarus,” saying that “this is simply not possible from the outside.”
But he hopes it will “show the brave people over there that we are by their side and hearing their voices – today, just like six months ago.”
Looking for ‘legal consequences’ someday
In their last meeting with the opposition Minsk “Coordinating Council”, German government representatives also agreed to help document and record the regime’s repression of peaceful protesters.
Berger of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin said that the effort to trace crimes committed in Belarus was designed to “give the necessary teeth” to the three existing rounds of EU sanctions – “to show those responsible for the crackdown who were responsible responsible for these violations, in human rights law, that they can be held accountable. “
He stressed that this idea did not belong to Germany; instead, it was done in conjunction with a “series” of NGOs and European partner countries.
“We want to document – and in a way that will stand up in court – which crimes and violations of liberty have been committed. And in principle there are two possibilities how to achieve that,” said Berger. “It can be done through the United Nations, through the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. And another possibility that we are also looking at is that we are assigning various NGOs to do this task so that this evidence is gathered.”
Tsikhanouskaya’s time in Berlin was steeped in symbolism, including ecumenical prayer sessions, trips to art exhibitions on Belarusian politics, and visits to the Berlin Wall site.
The minister said it was too early to think of some kind of international tribunal dedicated to crimes committed in Belarus, saying that the “first step” remains to collect evidence in such a way that it can later be used in several forums.
“We have seen repression by the police. Meanwhile, thirty thousand people have been arrested. There are more than 200 political prisoners and there is still not a single legal case against a member of the security forces, “said Berger.
For now, six months after the last dubious re-election of Minsk’s “last European dictator”, seeking justice for Alexander Lukashenko’s allies or even victims still seems a somewhat distant goal.
The party capitalized on public outcry over Merkel’s 2015 decision to enabling a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
More than three years later, 31-year-old Alaows hopes to represent another point of view in the ongoing debate – namely the refugees themselves.
“I support human rights. I came to Europe, or to Germany, for a safe and dignified life. I have a feeling of security, but at the same time, I am shocked by the situation of the refugees, by the living conditions here,” he told DW in an interview.
“There is a lot of debate about refugees, but no one is talking to the refugees themselves. And that’s why I want to be their political voice in the Bundestag.”
The ‘terrible’ living conditions
As Syrian civil war broke out, Alaows had taken part in peaceful demonstrations and provided humanitarian aid to the Red Crescent as the war zone expanded. Finally, he found himself being targeted by the regime and decided to run away.
Alaows came to Germany in 2015. The former law student told DW the condition he faced when he started out was shock, living in a gym with 60 other people.
“The living conditions at that time scared me. I saw the need to get involved again politically. As a human rights activist, since a long time in Syria, I am actively involved again here in Germany for refugees.”
Since being in Germany, Alaows has worked in a counseling center for refugees, advising people on asylum and housing laws. After studying law in Syria, he became aware of the problems people experience and promised to work to make human rights equal for everyone.
‘Our point of view is lost’
He founded the political group Refugee Strike Bochum, a self-organized refugee group with the aim of getting their views heard.
“At that time, I realized: our point of view was lost in politics. Then I decided to stay involved and use my voice to hear the refugee point of view.”
Germany is scheduled to hold a parliament elections on September 26, more than six years after Alaows arrived in Germany. After applying for citizenship, he on Tuesday launched his candidacy for the Greens to represent Oberhausen in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
If he were elected, Alaows said he would not be intimidated by sitting in the same parliament as the AfD. Instead, he plans to focus on achieving his political goals for “all refugees”.
“I stand up for human rights. And I think that is a fundamental question of right and wrong. I look forward to his work.”