DAMASCUS- Syrian Authorities release the Political Activist Haitham al-Maleh on Tuesday, just one day after President al-Assad issued a legislative decree granting general amnesty for the crimes committed before March 7, 2011.
Haitham Al-Maleh was born in Damascus, Syria in 1931 and has worked as a lawyer since the early 1950s. He was a judge from 1957 and 1966, and in 2001 established the Human Rights Association in Syria.
Mr. Al-Maleh has dedicated his life to advancing democratic and constitutional principles, fighting for the independence of the Syrian judiciary. These efforts garnered him the Best Human Rights Activist of the Year Award in 2002 from the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists in Cairo, and the Guezen Medal presented by the Netherlands in 2006. Despite international recognition, however, Mr. Al-Maleh’s work has been personally costly, leading to his arrest several times since 1951 for such charges as “having insulted the president.”
Mr. Al-Maleh has spent the past four decades dedicating his work to the defense of human rights in Syria: ideological, political, social or otherwise. He has worked all over Syria and won several international awards in recognition of his dedication to human rights. He has frequently been asked to give lectures at universities, conferences and even in parliaments through the world.
Haitham Al-Maleh's human rights work landed him in prison for the first time in 1980 and was released in 1987 without ever being charged or put on trial. He appeared in front of a military court in 2002 for having published a magazine, and had his lawyer's license revoked in 2003. He has been under a travel ban since January 2004.
On October 12, 2009, Mr. Al-Maleh appeared on the Barada Television Channel to speak out against several government abuses, in particular, its arrest of his client, Muhannad Al-Hassani, the recent crack-down on pro-democracy groups like the Damascus Declaration, its unjustified perpetual declaration of martial law, its suspension of the Syrian Constitution. He objected to the Syrian government’s ongoing declaration of a “state of emergency,” which has continued since 1963 and enables the government to use unfair prosecution and imprisonment procedures for decades. Such long-term “states of emergency” are contrary to international law. Two days after his television appearance, Syrian authorities took Mr. Al-Maleh into custody.
On July 4, 2010, the Supreme State Security Court sentenced Mr. Al-Maleh to three years in prison for “spreading false news that could weaken the national morale.” The Syrian government uses these broad charges regularly to jail pro-democracy activists. Just two weeks prior, and in identical fashion, the court convicted and sentenced Mr. Al-Maleh’s client and fellow lawyer, Freedom Now client Muhannad Al-Hassani.