Syria: Mr. Muhanad Al-Hassani | Joint letter

Re: Mr. Muhanad Al-Hassani

To: Mr. Nizar Assakkef, President of the Syrian Bar Association

From: Adrie Van De Streek, Lawyers for Lawyers; Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Date: 2011-07-28

Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) would like to ask your attention for the situation of our colleague, a (former) member of the Damascus Section of the Syrian Bar Association, Mr. Muhanad Al-Hassani.

Amidst worrying news on the developments in Syria, we were delighted to receive the encouraging news of Mr. Al-Hassani’s release from prison, 22 months after he was arrested by the national security forces on the 28th of July, 2009. In our view, his release from prison is a recognition of the fact that Muhanad Al-Hassani was not guilty of the criminal offences for which he was convicted on the 23rd of June, 2010, including weakening the national sentiment and spreading false news concerning Syria abroad, and, moreover, should not have been convicted in the first place.

Considering the invaluable work Mr. Al-Hassani has done for the rule of law in Syria in the years prior to his detention, it would be a great asset to the Syrian society if Mr. Al-Hassani would be able to carry on working as a lawyer as soon as the circumstances allow for it. However, on the 10tn of November, 2009, two months after he was arrested, Muhanad Al-Hassani was disbarred for life by the Damascus section of the Syrian Bar Association. Muhanad Al-Hassani will not be able to carry out his work unless the decision leading to his disbarment is annulled.

The grounds for the disbarment by the Syrian Bar Association include:

(1) Mr. Al-Hassani’s ‘being the president of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, which has been established without an official license and without obtaining the Bar Association’s approval’;

(2) his ‘having the organization carry out its activities in a way that is harmful to Syria’, and his ‘publishing false and exaggerated information that weakens the state and its reputation abroad’;

(3) the assertion that Mr. Al-Hassani ‘has attended and documented the proceedings of the Supreme State Security Court without being the lawyer of those involved in these proceedings’.

With respect to the first and last of these grounds, I would like to draw your attention to the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. Paragraph 23 of these Principles reads:

“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right ta take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or farm local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization.”

Based on these universally applicable principles, Mr. Al-Hassani’s exercise of his freedom of expression and association, in the form of him joining or forming local, national or international organizations and attending their meetings and documenting the proceedings of the Supreme State Security Court, cannot lead to professional restrictions.

In the light of Mr. Al-Hassani’s recent release, the second of the mentioned grounds, the publishing of false and exaggerated information that weakens the state and its reputation abroad, is no longer a reason for the Syrian authorities to detain Mr. Al-Hassani. Therefore, the Syrian Bar Association should reconfirm and endorse the policy pursued by the Syrian government and annul the disbarment of Mr. Al-Hassani.

In addition, L4L and LRWC received information indicating that the pressure on Mr. Al-Hassani’s colleagues in Syria, members of different branches of the Bar Association, has recently increased. Lawyers have participated in sit-ins and protests across the country to support their colleagues who have been arbitrarily detained, such as Mustafa Haj Abdullah, Salam Othman, Mahmoud Hamza Arafa, Khaled Mazhar and Ahmed Haj Ahamda. Lawyers Mohammad Al Halabi and Abd Al-Moneim Qashqash, who have also been in detention in recent weeks, have been tortured during their detention, Lawyers protesting against the detention and maltreatment of their colleagues during sit-ins within the Bar Association’s club on 19 July in Aleppo and in the court of Justice of Damascus on 23 July have been attacked by pro-regime militias. While all of these lawyers legitimately used their right to free expression in support of their colleagues, according to the information received, (the different branches of) the Syrian Bar Association have not supported or protected them.

In accordance with paragraphs 16 and 17 of the Basic Principles, the protection of the legal profession is primarily the responsibility of governments. However, this responsibility also extends to your organization. In this respect, we call upon you to acknowledge the important role played by Bar Associations in the protection and support of the lawyers associated with them. Paragraph 24 of the UN Basic Principles provides that

“Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests […] and protect their professional integrity’.

In view of the above, L4L and LRWC believe that your organization should, in the first place, endorse your government’s policy and withdraw the decision to disbar Mr. Al-Hassani in order to enable him to continue working as a lawyer. Secondly, the Syrian Bar Association and its local branches should assume their responsibility towards their colleagues by bringing them immediate and visible support.

L4L and LRWC thank you for your attention to this very important matter. We are confident of your good will and sense of justice and will continue to monitor this case closely.