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Syria: Arrested human rights lawyer Mr Haitham al-Maleh to face national security charges
Arrested human rights defender Mr Haitham Al-Maleh has had a court hearing scheduled for 25 October, at which he will face national security charges which are subject to up to 15 years in prison. Haitham Al-Maleh was arrested on 14 October 2009 by Syrian security personnel in Damascus, and had a preliminary military court hearing on 20 October. Haitham Al-Maleh is a prominent human rights lawyer, founding member and ex-director of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS).
On 20 October, Haytham al-Maleh faced a court hearing before the Military General prosecutor who read out charges against him of “insulting the president”, “insulting the judiciary”, “conveying within Syria false news that could debilitate the morale of the nation” and “weakening nationalist sentiments”. At his court hearing scheduled for 25 October, should the judge decide that he should face trial, and if he is convicted, he may face up to 15 years in prison. It is reported that he is now being detained in 'Adra Prison, Damascus.
On 13 October, an officer from Political Security telephoned Haytham al-Maleh and told him to report to the Political Security’s branch in Damascus. Haytham al-Maleh refused to go, and was arrested at his office the next day at about 12.30pm. Syrian authorities refused to elaborate on his whereabouts but it was reported that he was initially held in a detention centre in the Kafr Sousa area of Damascus, and that he was moved on 19 October to a branch of the Military Police in Qaboun, a district in Damascus. No reason was given for his arrest. However, it was believed that his 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, Haytham al-Maleh discussed human rights and democracy in Syria. In addition, Haitham Al-Maleh is one of the lawyers currently defending the prominent human rights lawyer Mr. Mohanad Al-Hassani, about whom Front Line previously reported on 26 August 2009 (see Original Front Line Appeal).
Haytham al-Maleh was imprisoned from 1980 to 1986 for his work for the Freedom and Human Rights Committee of the Syrian Lawyers’ Union. The authorities have reportedly banned him from travelling abroad since 2004.
Front Line believes that the arrest of and charges against Haytham al-Maleh are directly linked to his work in the defence of human rights. Haytham al-Maleh is aged 78 and suffers from diabetes and an overactive thyroid gland. Both conditions require the regular intake of appropriate medication, diet and medical supervision to ensure that his health remains sound. Front Line is thus seriously concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Haytham al-Maleh.
Front Line urges the Syrian authorities to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Haytham al-Maleh and drop all charges against him, as it is believed that he is being held solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Ensure that the treatment of Haytham al-Maleh, whilst in detention, adheres to all those conditions set out in the “Basic Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1999”;
3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological security and integrity of Haytham al-Maleh including providing him with access to independent medical assistance.
4. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Syria are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.