Publication of a joint trial observation report

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Paris-Geneva, March 4, 2011. 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), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) publish today a report entitled “SYRIA: The Trial of Human Rights Lawyer Haytham Al-Maleh Before the Second Military Court of Damascus - February – July 2010”.

ICJ, EMHRN, and the Observatory carried out six missions [1] to Damascus between February and July 2010 to monitor the hearings of the trial of Haytham Al-Maleh, an 80-year-old prominent Syrian human rights lawyer and former President of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). Haytham Al-Maleh was unlawfully arrested by officers of the General Intelligence Service on 14 October 2009 and prosecuted before the Second Military Court of Damascus on the grounds of “transferring false and exaggerated news that weaken national sentiments,” “spreading false or exaggerated information abroad which undermines the prestige of the State,” and “slandering the judicial system.”

The missions’ delegations sought meetings with Government officials, representatives of the judiciary and the legal profession, academics, lawyers, and other members of civil society in order to undertake a full assessment of the fairness of the trial of Haytham Al-Maleh, the state of the judiciary and the rule of law in Syria. Over the course of these missions, the observers met with the President of the Second Military Court, Brigadier General Ali Mohammed Hussein; the General Advocate, Ms. Amina Achamat; the President of the Syrian Bar Association, Nizar Assakkef; the military public prosecutor, other representatives of the Syrian judicial system, as well as human rights lawyers and members of the defence committee of Mr. Al-Maleh. Government officials declined to meet with the members of the delegations.

On 4 July 2010, the Second Military Court of Damascus convicted Haytham Al-Maleh and sentenced him to three years of imprisonment for “transferring false and exaggerated news that weaken national sentiments”. [2] The charges arose from Al-Maleh’s articles and the phone interview he gave to Baradda TV channel in which he criticized, amongst other things, the continued use of the emergency laws in Syria and the ongoing control of the Syrian authorities over the judicial system.

The report demonstrates that the trial of Al-Maleh failed to comply with international standards of fair trial. The entire procedure was marred by serious human rights violations from the time of arrest, through detention, trial and conviction. The observation of the trial before the Second Military Court of Damascus highlighted a series of violations of the right to fair trial, especially the right to be tried before an independent and impartial court, the right to defence, the right to be presumed innocent, and the principle of the equality of arms, though these rights are provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Syria on 21 April 1969.

The trial of Al-Maleh also reflects Syria’s policy and practice of criminalizing the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and silencing human rights lawyers and defenders and other dissenting voices.

The report is available on the following web links in English:


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