Detained Syrian Opposition Figure Must Be Immediately Released


Freedom House calls for the immediate release of Haitham Maleh, a long-term Syrian human rights activist who was detained by Syrian authorities on October 14, and urges the European Union to postpone signing a cooperation agreement with Syria until he is freed.

Just before being called in for questioning, Maleh had given a telephone interview to a London-based opposition television station in which he  described Syria’s deteriorating political situation and highlighted the plight of Muhannad Al-Hasani, a Syrian human rights lawyer who has been in prison since July 26 for monitoring judicial activities.

Maleh’s detention occurs on the eve of the signing of an EU-Syria partnership agreement, which has been long delayed due to European concerns about Syrian human rights violations.

“Freedom House is deeply concerned about Haitham Maleh’s safety and calls for his immediate release, as well as that of Muhannad Al-Hasani. It is a real testament to the injustice of the Syrian government that these two men have been detained simply for speaking out about basic human rights,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director.

“We very strongly entreat the European Union to immediately suspend plans to sign the cooperation agreement with the Syrian government until Maleh and Al-Hasani are released,” she added.   

The EU and Syria began discussing a partnership agreement in 2004, but negotiations stalled due to Dutch concerns about the Assad government’s lack of respect for human rights. The current agreement, which is due to be signed on October 26, includes a clause calling for the agreement’s suspension in the face of human rights violations.
Currently 78 years old, Maleh has been a human rights activist for over half a century and is a former member of the diverse coalition that created the 2005 Damascus Declaration, which outlined a platform for democratic change.

Twelve members of the Damascus Declaration’s steering committee were convicted in 2008 and are currently in jail. Over 2500 political prisoners are languishing in Syrian jails today. The Syrian regime’s severe curbs on freedom of expression, association and assembly place the country among the Worst of the Worst: the World's Most Repressive Societies. Syria is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.


To learn more about Syria, read:

Freedom in the World 2009: Syria
Freedom of the Press 2008: Syria
Worst of the Worst 2009: Syria

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Syria since 1972.


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