Human rights lawyer sentenced to five years imprisonment in Syria

by | Aug 22, 2002 | Advocacy, Open letters

The ICJ is dismayed that Habib Issa, a Syrian lawyer and founding member of the Human Rights Association, was sentenced on 19 August to five years imprisonment by the Syrian Supreme State Security Court for – among other charges – attempting to change the constitution by illegal means.

The ICJ had addressed two previous interventions to President Bashar al-Assad regarding Mr. Issa. Decisions of the Syrian Supreme State Security Court cannot be appealed.

22 August 2002

H.E. Mr. Bashar al-Assad
President of Syrian Arab Republic
Presidential Palace
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic

Dear Sir,

This is a follow-up letter to the ones we sent you on 29 July 2002 August and 28 September 2001 regarding Mr. Habib Issa, a Syrian lawyer defending opposition activist and Parliamentarian Riad Seif. Mr. Issa is also the spokesperson of the Gamal Al-Attasy Forum for Democratic Dialogue and a founding member of the Human Rights Association, an organization which has been particularly targeted by your Government.

We are dismayed that despite our interventions and those of other international human rights NGO’s, on 19 August, the Syrian Supreme State Security Court sentenced Mr. Issa to five years’ imprisonment. The charges against him were as follows:

1. Attempting to change the constitution by illegal means
2. Inciting racial and sectarian strife
3. Dissemination of false information with the aim of weakening the spirit of the nation and harming the dignity of the State
4. Delivering speeches with the aim of stirring armed disobedience against the authorities.

The sentence by the Syrian Supreme State Security Court, which cannot be appealed, violates Mr. Issa’s fundamental human rights to a fair trial. This includes the right to be heard by an independent and impartial tribunal, pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), to which Syria acceded in 1969.

As we pointed out in our previous intervention, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets and defines the provisions of the CCPR, has consistently held that state security courts do not afford a fair trial as they are neither independent nor impartial. The concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee of 24/04/2001, on the Syrian Arab Republic (CCPR/CO/71/SYR, par. 16) state that,

In the Committee’s view, the procedures of the State Security Court are incompatible with the provisions of article 14, paragraphs 1, 3 and 5. The public nature of proceedings before the State Security Court is not guaranteed. The Committee is also concerned about allegations, to which the delegation did not respond, that the Court has rejected complaints of torture, even in flagrant cases, and that some legal representatives have withdrawn in protest against the failure to respect the rights of the defence. Moreover, the Committee notes that the State Security Court’s decisions are not subject to appeal.

The State party should ensure that the procedures of the State Security Court scrupulously respect the provisions of article 14, paragraphs 1 and 3, of the Covenant and should grant accused persons the right to appeal against the Court’s decisions (article 14, paragraph 5, of the Covenant).

The fact that decisions of the Syrian Supreme State Security Court may be overturned by Presidential decree does not substitute a court of appeal. We reiterate that pursuant to Article 14(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is higher tribunals that must review sentences by lower courts and not the Executive.

We also respectfully remind you again that the use of the Syrian State Security Courts to try lawyers violates the 1990 United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which require that,

27…. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing…

28. Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject to an independent judicial review.

We urge that the sentence against Mr. Issa be rescinded and that any subsequent judicial process which may be brought against this lawyer and other lawyers in your country conform to international human rights standards.

Yours faithfully,

Louise Doswald-Beck
Secretary-General

cc: Mr. Nabil al-Khatib
Minister of Justice
Al-Nasr Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 11 224 62 50

cc: Muhammad Harba
Minister of Interior
Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 11 222 34 28

cc: Mr. Nasser Qaddur
State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 00 963 311 332 06 86

cc: H.E. Ambassador Dr. Toufika Salloum
Permanent Mission of Syrian Arab Republic
to the UN Office in Geneva
Rue de Lausanne 72
1202 Geneva
022 738 42 75

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