SYRIA: Release immediately human rights defender Muhannad Al Hassani!

Press release

Paris - Geneva - Copenhagen, July 31, 2009: 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), and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) express their deep concern regarding the situation of Mr. Muhannad Al Hassani, a human rights lawyer, President of the “Syrian Organisation for Human Rights” (Sawasiya) and member of the Damascus Bar Association for 15 years.

On July 28, 2009 in the morning, Mr. Muhannad Al Hassani was summoned by the Internal Security Department (ISD), where he was asked to come back later with his ID card. He was arrested in the evening when returning to present his ID card and transferred to the State security detention centre in the Mafar Sussa region. He was denied access to his lawyers. According to the information received, he had already been summoned several times within the three previous days by the latter. Mr. Al Hassani has been attending the sessions of the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) and published every week a report on the monitoring of the functioning of this special jurisdiction.

On July 30, 2009, Mr. Al Hassani has been presented before Damascus First Prosecutor who informed him he was charged of several criminal offenses, including “declarations aimed at weakening patriotic feelings or encouraging sectarian or ethnical division when the country is on war or expecting a war”, and spreading “false or exaggerated statements aimed at weakening the nation” (articles 385 and 386 of the Syrian Penal Code). These offenses are punished by at least three months imprisonment term

M. Al Hassani was then transferred to the Adra prison, where he still remains as of issuing this urgent appeal. He was allowed to give phone calls and reported to be in good health. According to the information received, his hairs have been shaven, and the jailers have threatened to put him in isolation and to make him sleep on the floor. The Observatory and the EMHRN fear that Mr. Al Hassani be subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

The Observatory and the EMHRN express their deepest concern about Mr. Al Hassani’s arbitrary detention, which seems to aim at sanctioning his human rights activities, especially regarding the monitoring of the Supreme State Security Court and the detention conditions in Syria. It can also be seen as part of an increasing wave of repression targeting human rights defenders in Syria.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the EMHRN call upon the Syrian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Muhannad Al Hassani, as well as to guarantee in all circumstances his physical and psychological integrity.

More generally, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the EMHRN urge the Syrian authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment against him as well as against Syrian human rights defenders and civil society activists in general, in conformity with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998. Undersigned organisations therefore call upon the Syrian authorities to abide by international human rights standards as expressed in the Barcelona Declaration and other international instruments to which the Syrian Arab Republic is a State party.

For more information, please contact:

· FIDH: Gaël Grilhot / Karine Appy: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39

· EMHRN: Marc Degli: +33 1 48 18 06 86

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