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Detained Syrian lawyer receives Martin Ennals Award

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - (New York, May 7, 2010) - The decision to present the prestigious Martin Ennals Award this year to the lawyer and rights activist Muhanad al-Hasani, who has been detained by Syrian authorities since last July, should help focus international attention on Syria's systematic repression of human rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today.

"This award is a tribute to al-Hasani and all human rights activists who at great personal risk work to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law in Syria," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Syrian authorities should celebrate Muhanad al-Hasani as a hero, not jail and persecute him."

The Martin Ennals Award, named for the pioneering human rights activist and first secretary general of Amnesty International, is "granted annually to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means."

Recipients are chosen by a jury of representatives of major international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), Frontline, International Commission of Jurists, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HURIDOCS), and Diakonia.

The Chairman of the Ennals Award jury, Hans Thoolen, described al-Hasani as "a man of an exceptional courage, arbitrarily detained in unacceptable conditions for defending the rule of law and the right to organize a human rights organization."

Al-Hasani, 42, is president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization (Swasiah), a leading human rights group, which Syrian authorities have refused to register. He has regularly represented activists and political detainees before the courts and has been a leading monitor of the State Security Court, a special court that exists outside the ordinary criminal justice system.

State Security, one of Syria's multiple intelligence services, detained al-Hasani on July 28, 2009, and an investigating judge charged him two days later with "weakening national sentiment" and "spreading false or exaggerated information." Al-Hasani's arrest and charges stem from his human rights work, particularly his reporting on the State Security Court and public denunciation of the reported death of a detainee under torture. Authorities are holding al-Hasani in 'Adra prison, on the outskirts of Damascus, in a small cell that he shares with 70 other prisoners charged with ordinary crimes. The latest session of his ongoing trial was on May 4.

On November 10, the Damascus bar association's disciplinary tribunal permanently disbarred al-Hasani because he "headed an unlicensed human rights organization without obtaining the prior approval of the bar association" and "attended sessions of the State Security Court to monitor its proceedings without being appointed as a defense lawyer by the accused."

"This award is one more call to the Syrian authorities to end their prosecution of al-Hasani and release him, as well as the other human rights activists they have detained," Whitson said.

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