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Human rights organisations express concern over lawyer's trial and call for his release

(CIHRS/IFEX) - June 17, 2010 - The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned by the ongoing trial of lawyer and rights activist Muhannad al-Hassani, the chair of the Syrian Human Rights Organization Sawasiyah. Because of his work, he has been charged with harming the dignity of the state, weakening national sentiment, and disseminating false news that weakens the nation's morale, all charges often used by the Syrian authorities against critical writers, journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders.

Attorney Muhannad al-Hassani, a recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, was referred to a judge for questioning due to his human rights work, specifically his reports on exceptional trials before the High State Security Court and his exposure of the death of a detainee due to torture. He was then charged and referred to a criminal court in Damascus. Thus far, the court has shown clear bias against al-Hassani: in one session, the court rejected motions to hear witnesses on the grounds that there was no need. To date, the prosecution has brought no incriminating evidence against al-Hassani.

On June 10, the Second Criminal Court in Damascus convened to hear the defense. The Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies submitted a joint written brief to the court arguing that the prosecution of al-Hassani for his rights work is contrary to all internationally recognized guarantees for human rights defenders and constitutes a violation of a slew of rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly freedom of expression and the right to freely circulate and disseminate information. These rights are guaranteed by international conventions to which Syria is a party.

In November 2009, the Bar Association, run by the Syrian security apparatus, expelled al-Hassani from the association's Damascus branch after he was referred to the organization's disciplinary council for chairing an unlicensed advocacy organization without the permission of the Bar. The association alleged that his activities harmed Syria and that he was engaged in disseminating false or distorted information that undermined the dignity and standing of the state.

The appellate court that is hearing an appeal of the expulsion has postponed its ruling pending the outcome of the criminal trial, which is expected on June 23, 2010. If al-Hassani is convicted, it may mean that he will be permanently disbarred and deprived of his right to practice law in Syria.

We, the undersigned organizations, ask the Syrian authorities to take immediate action to end these shameful trials, whose verdicts seem a foregone conclusion, and immediately release Muhannad al-Hassani. We also urge the Syrian judiciary to exercise neutrality and honor al-Hassani's right to a fair trial that meets the relevant standards laid out in international conventions. We would also like to remind the Bar Association of the need to defend the rights of its members, and we urge them to reconsider the decision to expel al-Hassani from the association.

The undersigned organizations also call on the special rapporteur on human rights defenders and the special rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary and lawyers to intervene with the Syrian authorities to urge them to stop the ongoing violations against human rights defenders in the country and compel the Syrian authorities to respect guarantees for the independence of the judiciary and uphold due process rights for all those brought before Syrian courts.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Non-IFEX signatories

Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support
Arab Union of Human Rights Defenders
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Youth Center for Human Rights
Center for Alternative Development Studies
Committee for the Defense of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights in Syria
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Human Rights First Society
Land Center for Human Rights
National council for liberties in Tunisia
New Women Foundation
Syria Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement

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