Syrian artist’s Silent Demonstration watches over German war crimes trial

Syrian artist Barakeh amid installation
Syrian artist Khaled Barakeh, 44, stands amid his installation "The Muted Demonstration" outside a Koblenz court during the first trial against suspected members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security services for crimes against humanity in Koblenz, Germany, July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

July 1, 2020

KOBLENZ, Germany (Reuters) – Forty-nine faceless figures stand on the lawn outside a German courthouse, facing the windows of a courtroom behind which two suspected members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security services are standing trial for torture and sexual assault.

The figures, part of an art installation called The Muted Demonstration, are wearing jeans, shirts and jackets that formerly belonged to victims of torture, their creator, Syrian artist Khaled Barakeh, told Reuters on Wednesday.

They stand silently with arms raised, to be seen from within the courtroom by participants in what lawyers say is the first trial for alleged war crimes by Syrian government agents.

Campaigners have hailed the process as a first step towards justice for thousands of Syrians who say they were tortured in government facilities, after attempts to establish an international tribunal for Syria failed.

When asked why he chose to create 49 figures, rather than a larger or smaller number, Berlin-based Barakeh, 44, told Reuters that was what his budget allowed.

(Reporting by Wolfgang Rattay; writing by Maria Sheahan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)