Syria: Detention of Haytham al-Maleh, lawyer

Re: Detention of Haytham al-Maleh

To: President Bashar al-Assad; General Basam Abd Al-Majid; Muhammad al-Ghafari

From: Michael M. Macaulay, LRWC Member

Date: 2009-11-06

I am once again writing to you on behalf of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (“LRWC”). LRWC is a committee of Canadian lawyers who provide support internationally for advocates whose rights, safety, or independence are being threatened as a result of their human rights work.

LRWC has been advised, by reliable sources, of the October 14, 2009 arrest of Mr. Haytham al-Maleh, a 78-year-old human rights lawyer and former head of the Human Rights Association in Syria. We are advised Mr. al-Maleh was arrested at his office the day after he told a Political Security official that he would not report to the Political Security branch in Damascus and has since been held incommunicado in a State Security detention centre in Kafr Sousa, Damascus.

Mr. al-Maleh has been charged with “conveying false news within Syria that could debilitate the morale of the nation”, “weakening national sentiment” and “slandering” a governmental body. The charges against Mr. al-Maleh relate to his public criticism of human rights violations and corruption in Syria, specifically during a phone interview in September with Baradda TV.

At the time of his arrest, Haytham al-Maleh was defending Muhannad al-Hassani, another human rights lawyer facing trial on similar charges in relation to his work on behalf of political prisoners.

LRWC is deeply concerned by the charges brought against both Mr. al-Maleh and Mr. al-Hassani, which appear to sanction their advocacy in defence of human rights and attempt to intimidate them into silence. LRWC wishes to respectfully remind Syrian authorities that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the “Universal Declaration”) guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression; including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media. As such, LRWC requests that Syrian authorities respect the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration and immediately release both Mr. al-Maleh and Mr. al-Hassani and drop all charges against them.

At the very least, LRWC requests that Mr. al-Maleh and Mr. al-Hassani be given a fair trial in line with international human rights standards, including internationally accepted norms of fairness, transparency and impartiality and that Syrian authorities guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. al-Maleh and Mr. al-Hassani should they continue to be detained.

LRWC continues to be troubled by the pattern of harassment and intimidation against human rights activists in Syrian and asks that Syrian authorities immediately put an end to all harassment, including at the judicial level, against Syrian human rights defenders. These acts of harassment are often justified by Syrian officials under Syria’s emergency laws. As such, LRWC also requests that your Excellencies revisit the continued need for these laws and bring to an end Syria’s decades-long and unjustified state of emergency.

Please advise LRWC by mail, e-mail or fax of all action being taken by your government to rectify this situation. LRWC will be monitoring the Activists’ situation closely. A copy of this letter will be being forwarded to Canadian officials to alert them to Activists’ circumstances.

LRWC awaits your response.