German ISIS member sentenced to an extended prison term for crimes against humanity against Yazidis following appeal decision

Press statement by victim’s counsel Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen, Wolfgang Bendler, the NGO Yazda and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad

Munich, 29 August 2023

Today, the Higher Regional Court of Munich affirmed the conviction of ISIS member ‘Jennifer W.’ and increased her sentence from 10 to 14 years imprisonment. The judges highlighted that the defendant neglected the Yazidi victims' human rights because of their religious beliefs and that in enslaving them she intentionally furthered ISIS’ policy of destroying the Yazidi religion – aggravating factors that have not been considered by the first instance court when deciding on the sentence.

In October 2021, the first instance court convicted the 32-year-old German national who travelled to Syria in 2014 to join ISIS, for her role in the enslavement, abuse and killing of five-year-old Yazidi girl Reda as well as the enslavement and abuse of Reda’s mother. The defendant was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity through enslavement with the consequence of death, attempted murder and aiding and abetting the war crime of attempted murder by omission, as well as membership in a foreign terrorist organization. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The court found that:

  • The defendant and her Iraqi ex-husband Taha A.-J. held the two Yazidis captive as ‘household slaves’ in their home in Fallujah, Iraq for approximately six weeks in the summer of 2015.

  • The defendant’s husband had bought Reda and her mother after they had been enslaved during ISIS’ brutal genocidal campaign against the Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq in August 2014.

  • While in captivity at the couple’s house, Reda and her mother were deprived of sufficient food and subjected to almost daily beatings which the defendant often instigated.

  • The couple forced the Yazidi mother to do housework and they were forced to pray multiple times a day according to Islamic rules even though the couple knew that the captives were Yazidis. Reda was given a Muslim name which even the child's mother had to address her with.

  • The girl ultimately died after the defendant’s ex-husband tied her with a cable outdoors to the bars of the window and left her hanging there in the scorching heat of up to about 50 degrees Celsius as a punishment for wetting the bed and a measure to ‘discipline’ the girl. Although the defendant had realized that Reda was in a life-threatening situation and would have been able to help, she did nothing to save her life. After the death of the girl, the defendant held a gun to the head of the grieving mother and threatened to shoot her if she did not stop crying.

  • By enslaving Reda and her mother, the defendant deliberately and intentionally advanced ISIS’ agenda which aimed to eradicate the Yazidi religion and enslave Yazidi people.

In March 2023, the German Federal Court of Justice overturned the sentence upon the Federal Public Prosecutor's appeal. The defendant’s appeal was rejected. Germany’s highest court held that the lower instance court erred when qualifying aiding and abetting enslavement as a crime against humanity as a "less serious case" – a legal qualification that had resulted in a reduced sentence. Moreover, it criticized the lower instance court for not taking into account the defendant's motivation and goals, in particular the fact that by enslaving Reda and her mother she deliberately furthered ISIS’ policy, which aimed to destroy the Yazidi religion and the enslavement of the Yazidi people. The Federal Court referred the case back to (another chamber of) the Higher Regional Court of Munich to decide on the sentence.

During the sentencing hearings over the past two months, the defendant confessed to most of the facts established by the court. Regrettably, the Chamber did not spare the severely traumatized mother from having to testify again about the impact of the crimes committed –after she had already gone through 11 gruelling days of testimony before five judges during the first instance proceedings. During closing arguments, the Federal Public Prosecutor requested to sentence the defendant to 14.5 years in prison – a term very close to a life sentence, which in Germany entails a minimum of 15 years.

Reda’s mother participated in the proceedings against Jennifer W. and the separate trial against her husband Taha A.-J. as a co-plaintiff and key witness after the NGO Yazda identified her, located her in Iraq and facilitated her participation in the proceedings. Yazda has collected thousands of testimonies from Yazidi survivors and had interviewed the co-plaintiff two years prior to the start of the trial. She was represented by a legal team consisting of German lawyers Natalie von Wistinghausen and Wolfgang Bendler and UK barrister Amal Clooney.

Commenting on the final judgment, Amal Clooney said: “This decision provides a measure of justice for my client who has put her life on the line to give evidence in the trials of her captors. Her courage and determination have led to the conviction of two ISIS members for crimes against Yazidis. The conviction for genocide was the first of its kind in the world and will benefit victims of ISIS for generations to come."

Natalie von Wistinghausen, who represented the victim during the court hearings in Munich together with Wolfgang Bendler added that: “Our client's courage and steadfastness made it possible for the German judiciary to bring the perpetrators and those responsible for the death of her daughter to justice. The accused Jennifer W. and her ex-husband Taha A.J. were sentenced to long prison terms, a signal to inhuman perpetrators of international crimes that they can no longer be safe from prosecution. We hope that our client can now finally turn the page and find some peace, together with the only son who remains with her. It is for him that she somehow survives, she says.”

Natia Navrouzov, Legal Advocacy Director at Yazda, which is also represented by Ms. Clooney and has helped identify and locate victims in several criminal proceedings in different jurisdictions, said: “These proceedings took over four years of the survivor’s life and the scars of the crimes will likely remain forever. We hope this decision will, however, help her get some closure for the loss of her daughter and that moving forward, she will decide if and how she wants to speak about this again. We commend everyone involved in this case and hope other countries can draw lessons learned from it by also prosecuting ISIS members for similar crimes.”

Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who is herself a survivor of enslavement and torture at the hands of ISIS, commented: "I am in awe of the courage displayed by Reda's mother. Her relentless pursuit of justice serves as a sign of hope for fellow survivors. I feel proud of the courage she has shown, despite the unimaginable trauma that she and her family have endured. I hope that this conviction will ultimately provide her with closure and aid in her healing process."


From August 2014, the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria was targeted by ISIS through an organized campaign of executions, enslavement, sexual violence, and forced recruitment of child soldiers, as well as the forced displacement of an estimated 400,000 Yazidis from their homeland in Iraq. Nine years after ISIS’ attack, thousands of Yazidi women and children who were abducted and enslaved by ISIS remain missing. These crimes have been recognized by the United Nations, national and international bodies and, more recently, German courts as amounting to genocide.

The trial against Jennifer W. which started in April 2019 was the first trial against an ISIS member for crimes committed against the Yazidis.

Since then, the German courts have convicted three ISIS members of genocide for their crimes against the Yazidis. The judgment issued by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt in November 2021 (and confirmed by the German Federal Court of Justice) against Jennifer W.’s former husband, Iraqi national Taha A.-J., represents the first conviction of an ISIS member for genocide anywhere in the world. A second genocide conviction followed in May 2022 against German ISIS returnee Jalda A. and a third conviction was issued against German ISIS returnee Nadine K. in June 2023.

Additionally, five ISIS members were convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes for their involvement in ISIS’ crimes against the Yazidis in six cases. These are the cases against Jennifer W., Sarah O.Nurten J.Omaima A. (who faced two separate trials) and Romiena S. Ms. Clooney, Ms. von Wistinghausen and Ms. Mehner, represented Yazidi victims in these cases.

The Arabic translation can be found here.

Note to editors:

Under German law, victims of grave crimes have the right to participate in criminal proceedings as ‘co-plaintiffs’ alongside the prosecution and defence. For her safety, the victim’s identity is not being revealed.

German law normally also does not permit disclosure of defendants’ full surnames. The defendant is therefore identified as ‘Jennifer W.’ throughout this statement.

Image of a woman holding a folder hiding her face in court
Photo credit: AP