Syria: Haitham al-Maleh’s case sent to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Syria: Haitham al-Maleh’s case sent to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

On 13 October 2009, Haitham al-Maleh, was summoned by Syrian Political Security in Damascus for an inquiry and has since vanished. He left his home on the morning of 14 October 2009 and by noon hour his phone was off – it became clear that he was disappeared. Mr. al-Maleh’s disappearance is believed to be linked to a telephone interview he gave on 12 October 2009 to London-based Syrian opposition television station Barada TV during which he openly criticized Syrian authorities for their continued repression of freedom of expression. Alkarama submitted his case to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 20 October 2009.

Haitham al-Maleh, 78 and a Syrian national, is a prominent lawyer, human rights activist and former president of the Syrian Human Rights Society. For many years during the 1980s he was subject to detention because of his defense of human rights and liberties in Syria. He is the lawyer of Muhammad al-Hassani, a jailed human rights defender.

Over his career as a human rights defender, Haithem al-Maleh has been repeatedly harassed, accused and jailed for his human rights work in Syria, where he defends cases which often oppose decisions made by the authorities’ or security forces. He had previsouly been imprisoned between 1980 and 1987 due to his work. In 2002, he was brought before a military tribunal for publishing a magazine in Lebanon, but was later released due to a decision by the President of the Republic, Bashar al-Assad. Subsequently, he had his lawyer’s liscense revoked in 2004 and has several times been banned from travel and from giving lectures.

According to information received in the past few days, Mr. al-Maleh was disappeared for 5 days, reappearing only on 19 October 2009 when he was moved to a branch of the Military Police in Qaboun, Damascus. He was brought before the Military General Prosecutor who charged him with: “contempt of the Head of State”, “contempt of public Administration”, and the “crime of disseminating false information that would affect the morale of the nation”.

Mr. al-Maleh’s arrests, as well as that of his client, Mr al-Hassani, are a clear indicator of the Syrian authorities’ blatant disregard for numerous principles of international law, most specifically, the right to the freedom of opinion as guaranteed by article 21 of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Following his reappearance on 19 October 2009, Alkarama submitted Haitham al-Maleh’s case to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (on 27 October 2009) asking them to intervene in this regard, in order that he be released or that he be given a fair trial in observance with international human rights norms.