Alkarama is increasingly alarmed at the state of health of Haitham al-Maleh and has issued the following appeal to the Syrian President:
Alkarama is increasingly alarmed at the state of health of Haitham al-Maleh and has issued the following appeal to the Syrian President:
To mark Syria’s National Day, 17th April, friends and supporters of Syria’s wrongly incarcerated prisoners of conscience protested outside the Syrian Embassy at 8 Belgrave Square, in London. Between 70 and 80 people were in attendance, many of them signing a letter to the President that was delivered via Embassy officials.
Simultaneous protests mounted in Berlin, Bern, Brussels, Canberra, London, Montreal, Paris, Stockholm and Washington.
There is always a danger that in the tumult of an election we forget about those who would wish to be doing exactly as we will be able to do on May 6th: vote for those we want to represent us.
Don’t forget our friends: Kamal al-Labwani, Anwar al-Bunni, Haitham al-Maleh and Muhannad al-Hassani amongst the many, many others. We must do what they cannot and speak up for their right to be heard.
Pictures from the demonstration are below.
As Syria prepares to celebrate 64 years of independence, the European Union continues to work towards cementing relations with Syria through its EU-Syria Mediterranean Association Agreement. Maureen Thomas, however, has alerted me to a demonstration outside the Syrian Embassy to remind the world that despite its reformist rhetoric, peaceful and democratic reformers such as Kamal Labwani, Anwar Bunni, Haithem Maleh and Muhannad Hassani are still locked up on trumped-up charges in defiance of Syria’s commitments on civil and political rights.
In an email to Maureen, Iyas al-Maleh, son of imprisoned human rights champion Haitham al-Maleh, thanked her for mobilising support for the demonstration, to be held at 3pm on Saturday 17 April, 8 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PH. Similar demonstrations are already planned for Brussels and Washington, with work ongoing to organise similar protests in Berlin, Geneva and Paris.
If you are a friend and supporter of Kamal, and his fellow prisoners, please see if you are free and visit the sign-up page to register:
News of the proposed demonstration comes at the same time as the UNHCR reports that the Syrian regime continues to harass its political internees. It makes for upsetting reading and you are left wondering at the strength of men who still find the courage to defy the authorities even in Adra prison, preferring to surrender their visiting rights instead of succumbing to the indignity of being forced to meet family in prison garb.
So please see if you are free on 17 April and make a standard for freedom of conscience and human rights.
And our friends.
Kamal Labwani’s family have written to Maureen Thomas, describing the latest humiliations in Adra Prison, Damascus. Maureen’s covering comment is a timely reminder of the human frailty of our friends who have been imprisoned in Damascus: “One can only admire the prisoners’ pride, determination and courage but I worry for Haytham, Muhannad, Anwar and Kamal who still have a long time to go with no money or medication to help keep them healthy.”
The letter from Kamal’s family speaks for itself:
“We are ok actually and our father but now we are not visiting him because he asked us not to.
Him and all the prisoners of conscious in Adra prison reject to be visited because the authorities want them to wear prison pajamas during the visit and not civilian clothes or even sports pajamas as they say they want them to be equal like other prisoners.
So the prisoners of conscience rise up claiming that they should be also equal to other prisoners in other rights like their visit is not being watched and have the right to visit for two hours rather than only half an hour and other fair requests. They say if you want us to be equal let us be equal in every single right. It is really not a matter of wearing prison pajamas or not, they want to be treated like other prisoners. If the authority wants them to be equal with civil prisoners they wish to be really equal.
And so now we cannot visit him because if we go he will refuse to come out and see us. We cannot give him money and provide him with medication. Not just us but the other prisoners’ families.
I would not be accurate if I called what the prisoners of conscience are doing as a strike because I really don’t know if they will end it or keep doing this until their demands are accomplished. We really don’t know what the circumstances will bring but until now it seems that they insist to go on.
I’m sorry for this long letter. We all hope the new days will bring good news.”
I meant to post this correspondence with Liz Lynne MEP before now. It provides some interesting information, not least of all the link to the EU’s delegation to Syria which would appear to be a useful way of staying up to date with news regarding the EU’s engagement with Syria.
We’ve corresponded previously about the EU/Syria agreement (I used my personal address).
I’d be grateful if you or your office could briefly explain what the preparatory phase described in the attached link is – and what opportunity there is to raise pertinent human and civil rights concerns. The stock response when anyone in the EU is questioned about this is that engagement with Syria will promote human rights. However, no-one has yet pointed me to an example where that sort of engagement with other countries has produced a measurable improvement.
In addition, the Syrians have even indicated a readiness to sign yet. (There was also something very galling about the very earnest discussions around “civil society” at the recent Damascus conference, right at the time the Syrians are continuing to “disappear” journalists, human rights lawyers and opposition activists.)
Your advice would be much appreciated – together with contact details for anyone you think I might appropriately contact.
(Writing in a personal capacity, rather than as Secretary to the Parliamentary Party)
Thank you for your further correspondence regarding the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Syria. The preparatory phase is part of the conciliation procedure which is used in the formulation of this Agreement This process, in part, requires consent from the European Parliament, which currently has not been given.
The provisions of the European Union’s Association Agreement with Syria are the prerequisite for full European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) status, but signature and full participation only come about once a number of steps have been adhered to. The aim of the agreement with Syria is to support economic and political reforms in the region. This process requires dialogue on human rights, democracy, terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. The EU advocates engagement and diplomacy as the best way to do this, particularly in relation to reforming human rights.
However, the EU can also deny engagement and put on hold its support to instigate human rights reformation. For example, the EU’s decision to suspend the upgrading of its Association Agreement with Israel means that the expansion of trade and economic relations in the region have been delayed. Consequently an upgrade to the Agreement, thus further engagement, is unlikely to occur until Israel increases its efforts to abide by international law.
In order to stay up to date with the latest bilateral and regional developments in EU-Syrian relations I suggest viewing the website of the Delegation of the European Union to Syria. A link to the site can be found here:
You can also contact the Delegation directly via email on
Thank you again for your correspondence and I hope this information is useful to you.
Liz Lynne MEP
One of the country’s leading champions of those imprisoned in Syria for human rights abuses is Maureen Thomas. The journalist Christiane Schlötzer recently sent her a copy of her article about the disappearance of Haitham al-Maleh that first appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung last weekend. Geoff Williams has translated that article.
“They fear an old man”
How a 72 yr old lawyer disappeared in Damascus
After lawyer Haitham Maleh gave his last interview he received a telephone call. He was to report the next day to an office of the secret service. Maleh didn’t. A day later three men in civilian clothes were waiting for the 78-yr-old when he arrived to unlock his car, at midday, in the middle of Damascus. The three strangers overpowered him and forced him into a car. Now the Syrian lawyer gives no more interviews. Instead, his son Iyas Maleh is giving them, and this week in Berlin he has been recalling his father’s fate.
It was the week in which the USA appointed an ambassador to Syria for the first time in five years of diplomatic ice-age. President Obama sees Syria as a signficant player in the Middle East and would like to release the country from its close alliance with Iran. Iyas Maleh regards the approach to Damascus by the West with scepticism. “The offer to improve relations must be linked to conditions” is his demand. “Syria has to show that it respects human rights.” Europe cannot simply “turn away” Maleh told the Süddeutsche Zeitung . He didn’t understand that both the Union (CDU/CSU) and the FDP stressed in Parliament (Bundestag) recently that deportations to Syria should remain possible. The opposition had demanded a stop to them.
Iyas Maleh did not know where his father was for eight days after his kidnap in Damascus on 14th October 2009. When he then appeared before a military court it became clear to the son that it would be a long time until his father was freed. The charge against him is one of “spreading false information and so undermining national morale”, an accusation frequnetly used “when they want to throw someone in prison. Punishment is 3 to 15 yrs imprisonment”. Haitham Maleh has already served six years in jail. He was chairman of a prohibited “human rights organisation” in Syria. Most recently, in written articles and an interview with the London-based Arabic TV company Barada TV he insisted on the rule of law within the state and criticised state corruption.
Thanks to a letter smuggled out of prison Iyas knows that his father has to sleep on the floor of an overcrowded cell. Iyas Maleh was also once arrested, in 1980, after which he fled to the USA. The 49-year-old computer engineer has not returned to Syria since. He has three siblings also living abroad. Their father remained in Syria.
“This allegedly so powerful Syrian government is afraid of an old man,” he says bitterly.
Very worrying news from Amnesty International regarding the health of Hytham al-Maleh.
Haitham al-Maleh was born in Damascus, in 1931 holds a degree in Law from Damascus University and a diploma in public international law. He is an award-winning human rights activist and lawyer. On 7 December 2004 he received an award from the National Advisory Committee (French) for Human Rights for his research on torture. He received his award from the French ambassador in Damascus in a special ceremony because the authorities prevented him from travelling to Paris. On 11 March 2006 he was awarded a Dutch medal in recognition of his courageous struggle for human rights.
The text of Amnesty’s recent press release is reproduced below.
Please write as requested by Amnesty.
Haitham al-Maleh’s health failing
Prisoner of conscience Haitham al-Maleh is very ill, and he has not taken any of the medication he needs since 11 February.
Since 11 February, the authorities have not allowed detainees in ‘Adra prison to obtain medication from anywhere but the prison pharmacy. Haitham al-Maleh will only take medication provided by his family, because he believes the prison pharmacy’s medicine is of poor quality.
He was brought before a military judge in Damascus on 22 February to face new charges of “insulting the president” and “slandering a governmental body”, in a public hearing. These charges were based on information from a prisoner detained for a non-political offence. Haitham al-Maleh said the information consisted of “lies and acts of provocation” by the prisoner.
Diplomats and two Italian lawyers representing the International Federation for Human Rights, an international non-governmental organization that aims at improving human rights protection, who had come to observe the trial session, were not allowed to attend. Haitham al-Maleh’s wife, who was present in court, was not allowed to shake his hand or talk to him. On his way out, security officers dragged him away from her when they embraced.
According to those who did attend the hearing, Haitham al-Maleh was so frail that his voice was weak. He had passed out during the week before the hearing, because he had not received his medication. The day after the hearing, the new charges were dropped under a presidential amnesty for prisoners convicted of minor offences, but the charges brought against him on 3 November still stand.
Conditions in ‘Adra prison are poor. Haytham al-Maleh sleeps on a mattress on the floor in an overcrowded cell. He has diabetes and an overactive thyroid gland and has not had any medication since 11 February, although he needs to take regular medication to treat both conditions. His health is deteriorating. Individuals suffering from diabetes and an overactive thyroid gland who do not take medication are at risk of severe weight loss, falling into a coma, and even heart and kidney failure. Unlike other detainees in ‘Adra prison, Haytham al-Maleh is usually accompanied by a prison officer when meeting with the prison doctor.
PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Arabic, English, French or your own language:
Urging the authorities to release Haytham al-Maleh immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.
Bashar al-AssadPresidential Palaceal-Rashid StreetDamascus, Syrian Arab RepublicFax: +963 11 332 3410Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Interior
His Excellency Major Sa’id Mohamed Samour Ministry of Interior ‘Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar Street Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic Fax: +963 11 222 3428 Salutation: Your Excellency
Copies to: Minister of Foreign Affairs
His Excellency Walid al-Mu’allim Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abu Rummaneh al-Rashid Street Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic Fax: +963 11 332 7620 Salutation: Your Excellency
Haitham al-Maleh was charged by a military judge on 3 November with “conveying false news”, “weakening national sentiment” and “slandering a governmental body”. These charges relate to his public criticism of human rights violations and corruption by Syrian officials, which included a phone interview in September with a Europe-based satellite channel, Baradda TV.
Prison authorities often encourage prisoners charged with or convicted of non-political offences to inform on political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. On 23 April, Kamal al-Labwani, a prisoner of conscience was given an additional term of three years in prison by the First Criminal Military Court in Damascus for “broadcasting false or exaggerated news which would affect the morale of the country” under article 286 of the Penal Code. This sentence was added to the 12-year term he was already serving on account of his work advocating peaceful reform in the country. This new sentence was based on the testimony of a prisoner in his cell in ‘Adra prison that Kamal al-Labwani had returned from one of the hearings of his previous trial and spoken disparagingly of the government. Kamal al-Labwani denied the charge and said prisoners detained for non-political offences were working in conjunction with the prison authorities, who had ignored his complaints that he had been assaulted twice in the prison.
Another prisoner of conscience, Walid al-Bunni, is serving a 30-month sentence for his involvement in the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, a coalition of unauthorized political parties, human rights organizations and pro-democracy activists from across the political spectrum. He was brought before Damascus Criminal Court on a new charge of “conveying false news” on 4 May 2009, based on the testimony of another prisoner. The new charge was finally dropped on 17 June 2009 and Walid al-Bunni was acquitted.
Alkarama have reported that Ma’an Aqil and Abdul Rahman Koki have been freed by the Syrian government within days of each other.
Aqil, a journalist in Damascus, was arrested on 22 November 2009 and was detained arbitrarily for three months (I blogged about his detention in December). Alkarama report that he was released Tuesday 23 February 2010.
Yesterday, Alkarama reported that Abdul Rahman Koki was released on Tuesday 16 February 2010, following a presidential pardon.
In both cases Alkarama had referred the cases to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Reporters Sans Frontières also report that two other journalists, Ali Taha and Ali Ahmed, have also been released after weeks of arbitrary detention.
Whilst being cautious not to overstate the significance of these releases, they offer a faint glimmer of hope in so far as the Syrian regime appears willing to free individuals who have clearly been prepared to challenge the government domestically and, in Koki’s case, be directly critical of it. As Alkarama notes, we must take this opportunity to remind the Syrian authorities of their responsibility towards international human rights law and urge them to release all prisoners of conscience, including Kamal al-Labwani, Hytham al-Maleh and Anwar al-Bunni.
Winston Churchill made an elaborate but astute observation regarding Russia in a radio broadcast in October 1939:
“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
Step forward seventy years and it’s not too great a leap of the imagination to make the same observation of Syria – though you might argue that the Syrian national interest bears a close correlation to the interests of Bashar al-Assad.
N. Mozes of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has compiled a comprehensive series of media reports that quote Syrian politicians and officials on Syria’s evolving regional and global political relations. The article, “Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int’l Role – The Triumph of the ‘Course of Resistance’”, reveals a Syria that has grown immeasurably in confidence, with a determination to resist what it sees as Western interference in its regional politics.
If you are interested in the politics of the Middle East, I urge you to read it.
Syria’s diplomatic bravura is understandable in terms of the politics of local alliances and attempting to forge a distinct and US-independent stabilising force in the region, along Islamic lines.
It is also entirely in keeping with the egoistical nature of Bashar’s regime. Hitherto, Damascus has been regarded by many as Ba’athist in name rather than principle. However, Syria’s posturing and tightened grip on matters of internal security (in obvious violation of its civil and political rights obligations in international law) has provided Syria, as the only regional power run by the Ba’ath Party, with a beacon status with which to lead a foreign policy that is based on revitalised Ba’athist ideals of pan-Arab nationalism.
In my view, domestic suppression is part of the code of that diplomatic flexing, demonstrating in its publicly loud prevarication over the EU-Syria Mediterranean Agreement that it will not see its economic interests subordinated to Western ideals of civil society. The careful switch of language regarding the US that Mozes identifies, from enemy to adversary, shows Bashar understanding that the West are desperate to engage Syria but that, at the same time, by maintaining a measure of distance he can enhance his credibility as the emerging leader of the region.
This, to my mind, can only have worrying consequences for those like Kamal al-Labwani who advocate peaceful and democratic reform of Syria’s politics. He and others would appear to be exemplars of Bashar’s policy of resistance. If Bashar’s goal is consolidation of his regional status, he will be in no hurry to release those detained for democratic politics redolent of the West (and Israel), except maybe on an exceptional basis to titillate those European politicians determined to spot reformist intentions in the Syrian regime whatever the regional political weather (and cost to their own diplomatic credibility). If this is the case, maintaining the international spotlight on their plight is even more important.
The fact that the EU are so ready to embrace the EU-Syria Mediterranean Agreement suggest that Bashar’s ploy of deft belligerence is working and the diplomatic pressures that those of us concerned about the fate of Kamal al-Labwani, Anwar al-Bunni, Hatham al-Maleh and Ma’an Aqil wish to see exerted will not emerge. The UK, like its EU partners, is in danger of being suckered.
I hope I am very wrong.
Thank you to Maureen Thomas for drawing my attention to two important internet broadcasts by the BBC World Service. The first is with Iyas Maleh, whose father Haytham al-Maleh was imprisoned by the Syrian regime last year. He talks here about the circumstances that led to his arrest and the character of one of Syria’s greatest defenders of human rights.
The second is with Joshua Landis, the American Middle East expert who gives an expert analysis of the situation in Syria.
You can find both interviews on the BBC page Syria: The Prospects for Political Change.
Joshua Landis blogs frequently on Syria and in 2005 carried an interview with Kamal al-Labwani from 2005, conducted by Joe Pace. It is well worth reading.