The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the opening of the trial held against Mr. Mohannad Al-Hassani, human rights lawyer, President of the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights “Sawasiya” and Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Syria
According to the information received, on February 18, 2010, at 3 pm., the first hearing of the appeal filed by Mr. Al-Hassani
’s lawyers before the Criminal Court of Damascus was held in camera, in presence of Mr. Al-Hassani and his lawyers. During the hearing, the Head of the Criminal Court read the indictment act and the defendant was able to deny the charges, on the basis that they were unfounded. Towards the end of the hearing, Mr. Al-Hassani was pulled violently by a police officer to prevent him from talking with his lawyers. The hearing for the examination of the case on the merits will be held in the days to come. Mr. Al-Hassani faces a sentence of up to 15 years of imprisonment.
The Observatory recalls that Mr. Al-Hassani is currently detained in Adra Prison, Wing 7, a ward reserved to sexual crimes offenders, in a cell together with 70 other prisoners.
The Observatory further recalls that another human rights lawyer, Mr. Haytham El-Maleh
, one of Mr. Mohannad Al-Hassani’s lawyers, and a founding member and ex-Director of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS), was arrested on October 14, 2009 and is also awaiting trial (See background information).
The Observatory denounces the judicial harassment faced by Messrs. Muhannad Al-Hassani and Haytham El-Maleh as well as their ongoing arbitrary detention, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning their human rights activities, and urges the Syrian authorities to respect fully fair trial standards, put an end to their ongoing detention and judicial harassment.
The Observatory also calls upon the Delegation of the European Commission in Syria and embassies of European Union Member States to visit Messrs. Muhannad Al-Hassani and Haytham El-Maleh in detention and observe the forthcoming court hearings, in accordance with the Guidelines of the European Union on Human Rights Defenders.
On July 19, 2009, after observing a trial before the State Security Court, a clerk, acting on orders from the chief prosecutor, seized and destroyed Mr. Muhannad Al-Hassani’s notes from the proceedings. The following day, Mr. Al-Hassani received a phone call from Syrian intelligence officials instructing him to report to their facility for questioning.
On July 28, 2009, Mr. Muhannad Al-Hassani was arrested after multiple questioning sessions on July 26 and 27. The reported ground for the arrest was that he had allegedly reported on and publicised the trial observations that he carried out before the Sate Security Court. An investigating judge charged him, under Article 286 of the Syrian Penal Code, with "weakening national sentiments" and "spreading false news".
Prior to his arrest, Mr. Muhannad Al-Hassani had come under increasing pressure as a result of carrying out his lawful professional functions. In particular, he has been subjected to a travel ban during the last five years, which has prevented him from representing the ICJ or participating in ICJ activities on different occasions. His office, telephone communications and e-mails have also been under constant surveillance by Syrian security forces.
On October 28, 2009, the criminal investigation was closed and the investigating magistrate referred Mr. Mohanad Al-Hassani before the Damascus Criminal Court under the charges of “declarations aimed at weakening patriotic feelings or encouraging sectarian or ethnical division when the country is on war or expecting a war”, spreading “false or exaggerated statements aimed at weakening the nation” (Articles 285 and 286 of the Syrian Penal Code) and “dissemination of false or exaggerated information abroad, and which undermines the prestige of the State or its financial state” (Article 287). His lawyers appealed the referral. On February 8, 2010, the Court of Appeal confirmed the referral of Mr. Al-Hassani for the above-mentioned charges.
Moreover, on November 10, 2009, the Disciplinary Board of the Bar Association of Damascus ordered the disbarment of Mr. Muhannad Al-Hassani, on the ground that he would be “the President of an unauthorised organisation”. Mr. Al-Hassani’s lawyers appealed this ruling on December 10, 2009. As of the date of this urgent appeal, the Bar Association of Damascus had not issued any decision in this regard.
As for Mr. Haytham El-Maleh, he was arrested on October 14, 2009. On November 3, the Military General prosecutor informed him he was charged with “conveying within Syria false news that could debilitate the morale of the nation” and “insulting the judiciary”, pursuant to Articles 286 and 378 of the Syrian Penal Code, under which he faces 15 years’ imprisonment. His lawyers appealed this decision.
It is believed that Mr. Haitham Al Maleh’s detention and the charges against him are linked to a phone interview that he gave to Baradda TV, a satellite channel based in Europe which opposes the Syrian authorities. In the interview, recorded in September 2009, Mr. Al Maleh discussed human rights and democracy in Syria. The judicial harassment against him could also stem from his leading participation in the defence of Mr. Mohannad Al Hassani.
On January 31, 2010 the Head of the Military Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Damascus rejected the appeal. His trial will be scheduled in the coming days. Mr. Al Maleh is currently detained in Adra Prison, Damascus.
Please write to the Syrian authorities authorities, urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Muhannad Al-Hassani and Haytham El-Maleh;
ii. Release Messrs. Muhannad Al-Hassani and Haytham El-Maleh immediately and unconditionally since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to any acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Muhannad Al-Hassani and Haytham El-Maleh and more generally against all human rights defenders in Syria;
iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic.
· President, His Excellency Bashar al-Assad, Presidential Palace, al Rashid Street, Damascus, Syria Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 332 3410
· Minister of Defence, His Excellency General, Hassan Ali Turkmani, Ministry of Defence, O mayyad Square, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 223 7842
· Minister of Justice, His Excellency Mr. Ahmad Hamod Younes, Mazeh “Otstrad”, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 666 2460
· Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Wallid Mu’allim, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, al-Rashid Street, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 332 7620
· Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to UN in Geneva, 72 rue de Lausanne, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 738 42 75, Email: email@example.com
· Embassy the Syrian Arab Republic in Brussels, 1 avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: +32 2 554 19 22; Fax: +32 2 648 14 85
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of the Syrian Arabic Republic in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, February 19, 2010.