Syria: Disciplinary Proceedings Against Muhannad Al-Hassani | Letter

Re: Disciplinary Proceedings Against Muhannad Al-Hassani

To: Mr. Mohammad Jihad Al-Lahham

From: Gail Davidson, LRWC Executive Director

Date: 2009-11-05

We write 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 that, on August 4, 2009, Mr. Mohamed Walid Attech, the former President of the Bar Association, decided to refer the case of Mr. Muhannad Al-Hassani to the disciplinary board of the Damascus section of the Bar Association. In its decision 1854, the Bar Association accused Mr. Al-Hassani of “being the President of the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights, which has been established without an official licence and without obtaining the Bar Association’s approval”, of “having the organisation carry out its activities in a way that is harmful to Syria”, and of “publishing false and exaggerated information that weakens the state and its reputation abroad”.

We have been advised that the grounds of the referral also include the accusation that Mr. Al-Hassani “has attended and documented the proceedings of the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) without being the lawyer of those involved in these proceedings; and that his actions violate the law governing this profession as well as the internal rules, and harm the dignity, honour and traditions of this profession”.

LRWC understands that the disciplinary board of the Damascus section of the Bar Association has been examining the case since August 11, 2009 and we understand that a ruling may be issued on around November 10, 2009.

We also understand that Mr. Al-Hassani is facing criminal charges for allegedly “weakening national sentiment” and “spreading false information that could debilitate the morale of the nation and harm the reputation of the state abroad”.

We consider these charges to be politically motivated and believe that Mr. Al-Hassani is being targeted because of his human rights work. We are deeply concerned by the fact that the Bar Association’s referred the case of Mr. Al-Hassani to its disciplinary board within a week of the criminal charges and was based on similar grounds.

These two proceedings, appear to contravene international standards relating to the independence of lawyers and the role of human rights defenders, including as contained in the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998 and to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted in September 1990. Article 16 of the Basic Principles provides that lawyers must be “able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and that they “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties”.

We are also concerned that the Bar Association’s actions are not consistent with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which ensures the right to freedom of expression and association.

LRWC strongly believes that the role of the a bar association should be defend the role of lawyers in society, including in their capacity as human rights defenders, and to encourage discussion on the law and its application. As such, LRWC urges you to drop all accusations against Mr. Al-Hassani, and recognize and support his human rights activities and the ability of lawyers to perform their professional functions without intimidation and harassment.

We hope that you will take our concerns into consideration.