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12 October, 2010 - Geneva, Switzerland - Haithem Al-Maleh (هيثم المالح), prominent Syrian human rights defender and lawyer, will be the recipient of the Alkarama Award 2010 for Human Rights Defenders. The award will be presented on 10 December 2010 at the annual Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders, which will take place at the International Conference Centre (www.cicg.ch) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Rachid Mesli, legal director of Alkarama, made an online video broadcast today on Alkarama's website announcing Mr Al-Maleh as the 2010 laureate. Mr Al-Maleh was unfortunately unable to participate, as he is currently detained in Adra Prison in Damascus.
"As we approach the first anniversary of Haitham Al-Maleh's imprisonment, Alkarama joins his family and numerous NGOs in calling for his immediate release. We sincerely hope he will be able to come to Geneva on 10 December to receive this award honouring his work," said Mr Mesli.
Mr Al-Maleh has been charged with "weakening national sentiment" and "spreading false news" and was sentenced to three years imprisonment in June 2010. Since his arrest nearly a year ago he has not had access to adequate medical attention. Consequently his health is gradually deteriorating, which could eventually lead grave health difficulties should his detention continue.
Haithem Al-Maleh's arrest
Haithem Al-Maleh was abducted on 14 October 2009 outside his office by State Security agents, only a few days after giving a telephone interview for the London-based Barada TV. In the interview he criticised Syria's continued repression of freedom of expression and its use of the State of Emergency laws to justify numerous human rights violations. Mr Al-Maleh disappeared for five days, reappearing on 19 October 2009, only to be charged with "disseminating false information that would affect the morale of the nation". He was then tried before a military court, even though he holds no military rank or status. Following this unfair trial, during which he was denied legal counsel, he was sentenced on 4 July 2010 to three years in prison. Alkarama regards the trial and sentencing of Mr Al-Maleh by Damascus' Military Court as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Syria ratified on 21 April 1969.
Since his arrest, Alkarama has brought Mr Al-Maleh's case to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on Health, the Working Group on Disappearances, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Committee Against Torture, and the Secretary General of the United Nations. Alkarama and 21 other Syrian and international NGOs have also jointly written to the President of Syria, requesting the immediate release of Mr Al-Maleh. The Syrian authorities have, to date, failed to publicly respond to any of the appeals for his release.
Human rights violations increasing in Syria
The Syrian government has a long history of repression of freedom of expression and civil society actions which limits the work of human rights defenders but also journalists and bloggers. Alkarama's most recent Syrian cases have mainly concerned the enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of citizens who have peacefully exercised their right to the freedom of expression.
The Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders
The Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders is awarded annually on the World Human Rights Day. The Alkarama Award honours a person or organisation that has contributed significantly to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Arab world.
Last year's Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders laureate was Addernour Ali Yahia of Algeria.
About Haithem Al-Maleh
Born in Damascus in 1931, Haithem Al-Maleh has been a lawyer since the early 1950s. He became a judge in 1957 until 1966 and in 2001 created the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS).
Mr Al-Maleh has spent the last four decades defending the rights of Syrians from every level of society, ideological and political persuasion, and in every region of the country. He has been presented with numerous international prizes for his human rights work and spoken many times at universities, conferences, and even before parliaments around the world.
Due to his human rights work in Syria, Mr Al-Maleh has previously been imprisoned without being tried or charged between 1980 and 1987; brought before a military tribunal for publishing a magazine in 2002; had his lawyer's license revoked in 2003; and has been banned from travel and from giving lectures since January of 2004.
Mr Al-Maleh has spoken of the need for the Syrian Constitution to be fully and completely implemented, and for the rights of all Syrians, as guaranteed in this constitution, to be protected.