Freedom House Welcomes the Release of Syrian Activist

Washington
Freedom House welcomes the release Monday of well-known Syrian lawyer and human rights activist Haitham Maleh from prison and joins him in calling on the Syrian government to release all remaining political prisoners and bring to an end the 48-year emergency law.
Maleh, 80, was released last night as part of an amnesty granted by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for all prisoners over 70 years old and those convicted of minor crimes. Maleh had been sentenced to three years in prison in 2009 after being convicted of “spreading false information.” He and 11 other political prisoners initiated a hunger strike that began today to demand the release of prisoners and the lifting of the emergency law. Maleh was also imprisoned from 1980 to 1986 after demanding constitutional reforms.
“Because of this regime I lost eight and a half years of my life,” said Maleh when he spoke to Freedom House by phone today. “It is obvious the regime does not understand the gravity of what is happening in the region. It has shown this by choosing to release one old man with nothing left to lose instead of the many political prisoners who are wasting years of their lives in prison having committed no crime.”
The state of emergency, in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest citizens and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge. Many of the estimated 2,000 to 2,500 political prisoners in Syria have never been tried. Since succeeding his late father Hafez Assad as president in 2000, Bashar Assad has released hundreds of political prisoners but has continued to crack down on political opposition.
“President Assad has made numerous recent promises to bring reform to the country and yet political and human rights activists continue to be unfairly arrested and jailed,” said David J. Kramer, executive director at Freedom House. “Freedom House calls on the Syrian government to immediately lift the emergency law that makes this possible and to free the thousands of remaining political prisoners.”
Syria is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
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