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2010 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders awarded to Syrian lawyer

(CIHRS/IFEX) - 14 October 2010 - The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) welcomes the decision to grant the 2010 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) to Syrian lawyer and prominent human rights defender Muhannad Al-Hassani. The award's official website announced that the Jury of the MEA had decided to grant this year's prize in a one-hour ceremony held in Geneva on Friday, 15 October 2010 at 18:00 GMT - 20:00 EET to be streamed live on the internet. It is unfortunate that Al-Hassani will not be able to attend in person to receive his award as he remains imprisoned for bravely defending human rights in Syria.

The MEA is given every year to a human rights defender with an exceptional record of combating human rights violations. Described on the award's official website as "a man of exceptional courage," Al-Hassani was found to be a fitting choice for this year's prize.

Al-Hassani, the president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization-Sawasiya, was sentenced to three years in prison on 23 June 2010, on charges of harming the stature of the state, weakening national sentiment, and disseminating false news that could weaken national morale - charges commonly used by the Syrian authorities against human rights defenders and activists.

Al-Hassani was first summoned for investigation because of his human rights work, particularly because of his reports on exceptional trials before the Emergency High State Security Court and for raising the case of the death of a detainee as a result of torture in Syrian detention facilities. He was later referred to a criminal court in Damascus. The trial proceedings clearly illustrated the court's bias against him, as documented by the CIHRS observers present at the trial. In one session, the court rejected a motion to hear witnesses on the grounds that it was unnecessary, while the prosecution presented no evidence for Al-Hassani's conviction.

Taking a cue from authorities, on 4 August 2009 the Syrian Bar Association referred him to the disciplinary council in Damascus for chairing an unlicensed rights organization without the consent of the Bar Association and engaging in activities damaging to Syria. As a result, Al-Hassani was disbarred.

At the same time as Al-Hassani's human rights defense is being internationally recognized he remains imprisoned despite numerous international appeals and demands to release him and other human rights defenders and activists.

CIHRS reiterates its call on the Syrian authorities to immediately release Muhannad Al-Hassani and other Syrian detainees imprisoned for their opinions and their legitimate human rights work. We also call on the international community to put additional pressure on the Syrian regime to comply with its obligations to uphold human rights and end the continuous abuses and reprisals against human rights defenders, of whom Al-Hassani is one of the most prominent victims.

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