Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2004 - Syria

Restriction to the freedom of movement of Mr. Haytham AlMaleh71

In 2003, Mr. Haytham Al-Maleh, a lawyer and director of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS), was prevented from leaving the country for several months. The ban was lifted in December 2003, when Mr. Al-Maleh was officially invited by the German Parliament, which he addressed on 10 December 2003 to denounce the situation of human rights in Syria and the enforcement of the state of emergency legislation in his country. On the occasion of this visit, the Syrian Ministry of the Republic Presidential Affairs asserted that Mr. Al-Maleh was not banned from leaving the country in any way.

On 10 February 2004, Mr. Al-Maleh received two different summonses from the Syrian security services. He was then questioned for several hours, and security services agents accused him of disseminating false information about the government and the situation of human rights in the country through his public stance and speeches. The next day, on 11 February 2004, Mr. Al-Maleh was prevented from leaving the Damascus international airport as he was on his way to the Emirates on a family visit.

Infringements to freedom of assembly, arbitrary arrest and detention of CDF members72

On 8 March 2004, over 400 members and supporters of the Committees for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms in Syria (CDF) peacefully gathered in front of the People's Parliament to call for the withdrawal of the state of emergency legislation, the release of political prisoners and the introduction of democratic reforms.

The demonstrators were violently repressed by the security forces, who arrested 102 persons, including Mr. Aktham Naisse, president of the CDF, Mr. Daniel Se'oud, Mr. Nidal Darwich and Mrs. Mozon Morched, all three members of the CDF board of directors. All these people were released without charges after a few hours of detention.

Yet, several CDF members were subsequently subjected to retaliation and intimidation. For instance, military security services arrested Mr. Ahmad Khazen on 15 March 2004 and Mr. Hassan Watfa, on 16 March, in Homs, 160 km north of Damascus. They were both sentenced to 45 days imprisonment in pursuance of the martial laws in force under the state of emergency. Both men decided to stop their activities within the CDF once their jail term served.

Moreover, Ms. Mania Al-Andari, a 23-years-old student and a member of the CDF, who had been arrested and then released together with her sister on 8 March 2004, was called in by the military security services in Suweida, in the south of Syria, on 3 April 2004. She was questioned for over seven hours by security agents who severely blamed her for participating in the 8 March demonstration. Ms. Al-Andari was released the same day, aftter being ill-treated and threatened with rape.

Arrest and arbitrary detention, ill treatment and legal proceedings against Mr. Aktham Naisse73

On 11 February 2004, Mr. Aktham Naisse, president of the CDF, was called in by the military security services in Damascus and interrogated by two high-ranking officers for several hours. Mr. Naisse, whose telephone is tapped, was accused of being the "worker of Europe, the United States and Israel", as a follow up to a CDF online petition To end the state of emergency in Syria launched by the CDF at the end of January 2004. Considering that this petition had been signed by over 3,500 persons, the security services claimed they had evidence that the CDF had "illegal" international contacts. While in detention, military officers verbally harassed Mr. Naisse, who was supposed to travel abroad a few days later. They notably threatened to prevent him from leaving the country or not letting him return and further suggested that other accidents "might occur". Mr. Naisse was released without charges on 12 February 2004.

In March 2004, the CDF published their annual report on human rights violations in Syria and issued several statements denouncing violence against Kurdish communities in the north of the country.

On 13 April 2004, Mr. Naisse was arrested again in Latakia and held incommunicado by the military security services. For over ten days, no information on his whereabouts was transmitted to his relatives. During the first week of his detention, Mr. Naisse, who suffers from diabetes and a poor general health condition, had a cerebral stroke and had to be hospitalised for several days in the Tishrin military hospital near Damascus. On 20 April 2004, however, he was transferred to the Saidnaya prison, which is known for the very harsh conditions of detention imposed on political prisoners, and where he was placed in solitary confinement, in the department for ordinary prisoners.

On 22 April 2004, Mr. Naisse was officially indicted by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) for "affiliating with international organisations", "undermining the objectives of the revolution" and "disseminating false information aiming at weakening the State", charges that carry sentences up to 15 years of hard labour.

On 28 April 2004, the Observatory submitted Mr. Naisse's case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

His relatives were allowed to visit him on 20 June 2004 only, whereas he had already been in detention for three months.

On 15 July 2004, the court dropped the charge for "affiliating with international organisations", which is punishable by three years in prison, following an amnesty granted by the President of Syria.

Mr. Naisse's trial before the SSSC74 started on 26 July 2004. The Observatory mandated two observers who, after lengthy negotiations, were finally authorised to attend the hearing, one of the reasons being that they were Arabs. The representatives of the European Union member States (Netherlands and Great Britain), of the delegation of the European Commission in Syria and the United States were not allowed in the courtroom. The hearing was postponed until 16 August 2004.

On that date, Mr. Naisse was released on bail, amounting 10,000 Syrian pounds (146 euros), in the presence of a representative of the Observatory. At the following hearing, held on 24 October 2004, the case was adjourned again until 16 January 2005. The observer mandated by the Observatory could not attend this session, since he was denied a visa by the Syrian authorities. The hearing was postponed until 24 April 2005.

In addition, Mr. Naisse was again subjected to harassment after he was released. In November 2004, the Syrian security prevented him from leaving the country to attend a civil society conference that sided the Forum for the Future organised by the G8 member States and the countries of North Africa and the Middle East in Morocco. Mr. Naisse won the 2005 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA).75

Detention of human rights defenders76

In September 2001, Messrs. Kamal Labwani, member of the CDF board of directors, Aref Alilah, professor of economics and human rights defender and Habib Hissa, a lawyer and a founding member of the HRAS, had been arbitrarily detained in a wave of arrests targeting ten opponents and/or human rights activists. In August 2002, the SSSC respectively sentenced them to five, ten and five years in prison and deprived them of their civil and political rights.

They were still being detained at the end of 2004, whilst their health seriously deteriorated in the course of the year.


[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

71. See Urgent Appeal SYR 001/0204/OBS 013.

72. See Urgent Appeal SYR 002/1504/OBS 026, Press Release, 19 March 2004 and Open Letter to the Syrian authorities, 15 April 2004.

73. See Urgent Appeals SYR 002/1504/OBS 026 and 026.1 and Press Releases, 13 February, 21 April, 22 April, 27 July, 17 August 2004 and 12, 14 and 17 January 2005.

74. The usual criminal proceedings ensuring a fair trial are not applicable before this Court (according to Decree 47 passed in 1968). Moreover, the SSSC does not come under the responsibility of the judiciary but under the authority of the National Security Office of the Baas Party and there is one military judge among the three judges. Lastly, the SSSC decisions are final and can not be appealed.

75. The Martin Ennals Award (MEA) for Human Rights Defenders, created in 1993, brings together the eleven most important international human rights organisations to offer protection to human rights defenders. The Jury is composed of: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the International Federation for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, the World Organisation Against Torture, Diakonie Germany, the International Service for Human Rights, International Alert, Huridocs and Defence for Children International.

76. See Annual Report 2003.

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