Haitham al-Maleh is a human rights lawyer and the former executive director of the Human Rights Association in Syria (HRAS). He is considered the face of the human rights movement in Syria and one of the most important members of the opposition in Syria. He often made critical comments about the Syrian regime and for this reason he was prosecuted repeatedly.
Al-Maleh was arrested on 14 October 2009 after giving an interview in which he had made critical comments on the continued suppression of the right to free speech. On 4 July 2010, at 80 years of age, he was convicted to a three-year prison sentence for ‘spreading false information’, ‘weakening the national sentiment’ and ‘slandering a government institution’. During the trial the prosecutor presented as evidence various newspaper articles in which al-Maleh, in the above-mentioned interview, had spoken critically of the state of emergency, in place since 1963, and the suppression of the right of free speech in Syria.
On 8 March 2011 Haitham al-Maleh was released from prison, and went into hiding immediately. He also immediately proved intent on a confrontation with the authorities, by speaking in highly critical terms of the regime to foreign media. By the end of July 2011 his travel ban was lifted. He went to Spain through Turkey, and afterwards visited the Netherlands. On 5 August 2011, in the company of L4L, he attended a hearing of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. One week later he was received by Minister Rosenthal of Foreign Affairs.
When in jail for a year, he received the Alkamara award for the courage and determination with which he fought for human rights in Syria. In 2006 he received the Dutch Geuzenpenning from the Stichting Geuzenverzet 1940-1945.
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