Jailed Syrian lawyer wins top human rights award

An imprisoned Syrian lawyer who has defended human rights and challenged the country’s oppressive legal framework has been honoured with a prestigious human rights award.Muhannad al-Hassani was announced on Friday as the winner of the 2010 Martin Ennals Award, the main award of the international human rights movement.Al-Hassani is the President of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights (Sawasiyah), a leading human rights organization that has been denied official registration by the Syrian authorities since its establishment in 2004.He was arrested on 28 July, 2009 for allegedly having reported information on proceedings at the notorious Supreme State Security Court, which falls far short of international standards for fair trial.A judge charged him with “weakening national sentiments” and “spreading false information that could debilitate the morale of the nation and harm the reputation of the state abroad”. Al-Hassani was detained and is expected to appear again in front of a Damascus Criminal Court on 27 May 2010.He is being held in ‘Adra prison and is reported to be confined to an overcrowded cell with charged and convicted prisoners. The Damascus section of the Syrian Bar Association made a ruling on 10 November 2009 prohibiting him from practicing law for the rest of his life. Amnesty International considers the ruling an appalling demonstration of servility to the government.Al-Hassani has come under increasing pressure as a result of carrying out his lawful professional functions. He has been subjected to a travel ban for the past few years.The Chairman of the Jury of the MEA, Hans Thoolen, described al-Hassani as: “A man of an exceptional courage, arbitrarily detained in unacceptable conditions for defending the rule of law and the right to organise a human rights organization”.The Ceremony of the Martin Ennals Award will take place in the Victoria Hall of Geneva on 15 October 2010.The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide.  The Jury is composed of the following NGOs: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists, German Diakonie, International Service for Human Rights and HURIDOCS. Previous laureates: Emad Baghi, Iran (2009); Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Uzbekistan; Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Burundi and Rajan Hoole-Kopalasingham Sritharan, Sri Lanka; Akbar Ganji, Iran and Arnold Tsunga, Zimbabwe; Aktham Naisse, Syria; Lida Yusupova, Russia; Alirio Uribe Muñoz, Colombia; Jacqueline Moudeina, Chad; Peace Brigades International; Immaculée Birhaheka, DR Congo; Natasha Kandic, Yugoslavia; Eyad El Sarraj, Palestine; Samuel Ruiz, Mexico; Clement Nwankwo, Nigeria; Asma Jahangir, Pakistan; Harry Wu, China. Patrons of the Martin Ennals Award: Asma Jahangir, Barbara Hendricks, José Ramos-Horta, Adama Dieng, Leandro Despouy, Louise Arbour, Robert Fulghum, Theo van Boven and Werner Lottje.