Syria: Prominent human rights lawyer delivered unfair sentence

Syria: Prominent human rights lawyer delivered unfair sentence

On Sunday 4 July 2010, Haitham Al-Maleh, a prominent Syrian human rights lawyer, was sentenced by Damascus’ Military Court to three years imprisonment on charges of “weakening national sentiment”. Alkarama condemns the unfair sentence and calls for his immediate release.

The 78-year-old was abducted by Syrian authorities on 14 October 2009, following a telephone interview on London-based Barada TV during which he criticised Syria’s continued repression of freedom of expression and its use of the State of Emergency laws to justify numerous human rights violations. Following his disappearance, he would spend a week incommunicado before appearing in front of Damascus’ Military Court, despite the fact he is a civilian.

Haitham Al-Maleh’s client, Muhannad Al-Hassani, another Syrian human rights defender, was also sentenced to three years imprisonment on 23 June 2010 by Damascus’ State Security court on charges of “weakening national sentiment”.

Since his reappearance from incommunicado detention he has been detained inside Damascus’ Adra Prison. He was denied his prescription medications to treat his rheumatism and thyroid illness for over four months, while poor prison conditions have resulted in severe deterioration of his health.

On 8 April 2010, Haitam Al-Maleh was first brought before Damascus’ Military Court. During the initial hearing he was refused private council, denied access to his indictment and prevented from presenting his testimony until his penultimate court appearance on 15 June 2010.

Throughout the trial, ‘Adra’ prison authorities denied him legal counsel, subsequently forcing him to act in his own defence.

Since his arrest, Alkarama has brought Haitham Al-Maleh’s case to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on Health, the Working Group on Disappearances and then Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Committee Against Torture and the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki Moon. Alkarama and 21 other Syrian and International NGOs jointly wrote to Bashar Al-Assad, the President of Syria, requesting the immediate release of Mr Al-Maleh. The Syrian authorities have, to date, failed to publicly respond to any of the appeals for his release.

Alkarama considers the trial and sentencing of Haitham Al-Maleh by Damascus’ Military Court as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Syria ratified on 21 April 1969, and calls on the Syrian authorities to immediately release him and all political detainees held for freely expressing their opinions.