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Haitham al-Maleh
هيثم المالح
Born 15 August 1930(1930-08-15) (age 92)
Nationality Syrian
Occupation Judge, Activist
Known for Democracy Campaigner, Prisoner of Conscience

Haitham al-Maleh (Arabic language: هيثم المالح‎, born August 15, 1930)[1] is a Syrian democracy activist and former judge. He is a critic of the current Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad and has been imprisoned by the Syrian government as a political prisoner on several occasions since the 1960s.[2] Maleh became an important opposition figure in the 2011 Syrian uprising.[3]


Haitham al-Maleh earned a degree in law and a diploma in international law. He was first arrested in 1951 at the age of twenty when he called for an independent judiciary; he was imprisoned for three weeks.[4] He became a judge in 1958. The first Baathist government dismissed him from the judicial bench because of his public criticism of the 1963 Emergency Law, which suspended constitutional rights and codified martial law.[3] He returned to the practice of law after his dismissal.[4]

The Syrian government ordered Maleh's arrest and detention numerous times because of his democracy activities. In 1978, Maleh was one of the authors of a document demanding constitutional reforms and the end of Emergency Law, which was soon endorsed by other professional organizations, culminating in a mass strike in March 1980.[4] Maleh was jailed as a political prisoner between 1980 and 1986 because he publicly criticized human rights abuses committed by the government, the Emergency Law, and violations of the Syrian Constitution. He went on hunger strikes at least twice during his detention.[3][5]

Maleh and other human rights activists founded the Human Rights Association in Syria in July 2001, and he was elected president of the organization, a position he held until 2006.[6] He has been active in Amnesty International since 1989.[3]

Maleh wrote several times to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad criticizing the human rights situation in his country. Writing as the president of the Syrian Human Rights Association, he demanded constitutional reforms and the lifting of the Emergency Law.[3] In 2003, he spoke before the German Parliament on the issue of Syrian human rights, describing al-Assad's rule as "a fascist dictatorship". When he returned, the Syrian government banned him from leaving the country for the next seven years.[4]

He has received many awards for his defense of human rights in Syria, including the Dutch Human Rights Prize awarded to him in 2006. The Syrian Government refused to allow him to leave the country to receive the award in the Netherlands. After weeks of uncertainty he learned of the final refusal to grant him an exit visa only the day before the ceremony.[7][8] In 2004 Maleh received the French National Consultative Commission of Human Rights "Human Rights Honor Award" for his research on torture in Syria, and the annual award for the dignity of the Geneva Human Rights Defenders in 2010, in addition to other awards and honors.[3]

2009 arrest

Maleh's most recent arrest was on 14 October 2009, a day after giving an interview on 'Panorama',[9] a political analysis show on Barada TV, a London-based satellite channel associated with the Syrian opposition and allegedly funded by the U.S. government.[10] He was referred to the Damascus military court and tried on charges of spreading false and misleading information that would "affect the morale of the nation", and sentenced to three years prison.[2][3][11] Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience, "detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression", and called for his immediate release.[12]

He was released on 8 March 2011 after a presidential amnesty on the anniversary of the arrival of the Baath party ascension to power, which was extended only to prisoners over 70 years old. As of July 2011 there are estimated to be 10,000 political prisoners in Syrian detention.[3]

Maleh requested Syrian authorities to cease political detention permanently, release all political prisoners, and affirm the right of every Syrian citizen to express his opinion. He noted that political prisoners are those who voice their opinions, and are not advocates of violence.[3]

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph on 30 January 2012, Maleh stated that the situation in Syria had passed the point where peaceful resolution was possible, and predicted that "Assad and his family will be killed in Syria, their next steps will be very bloody ... The end for him will be that he is killed like Gaddafi."[13]

In an interview which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on December 18, 2012 (as translated by MEMRI), Al-Maleh argued that Russians and Iranians may be subject to attacks by Syrian insurgents, arguing that "any civilian collaborating with occupiers or combatants is considered to be a legitimate target...Therefore, the citizens of these two countries, and of any other country fighting against the Syrian people, are considered legitimate targets for the rebels in Syria."[14]

See also


  1. "Syria: Human Rights Lawyer Turns 80 in Prison". Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. August 13, 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Khaled Yacoub Oweis (2010-07-04). "Syria jails elderly government critic for 3 years". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "هيثم المالح". Al Jazeera. 2011-03-10. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Sharif Abdel Kouddous (1 September 2011). "A Lifetime of Resistance in Syria". The Nation. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  5. "Haitham Maleh jailed for three years by Syrian court". London: The Guardian. 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  6. "الأخبار - الأرشيف". al-Jazeera. 2002-09-14. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  7. "Stichting Geuzenverzet 1940-1945". Geuzenverzet. 2006-03-13. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  8. "Syrian authorities arrest 78-year-old dissident". Reuters. 2009-10-15. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  9. "Episode 201". Panorama. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  10. Morrison, Sarah (2011-04-19). "UK-based Syrian TV station denies secret funding from US government". The Independent. London. 
  11. "Document - Syria: Haytham al-Maleh facing prison | Amnesty International". Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  12. "Syria: Haytham al-Maleh's health failing". Amnesty International. 26 February 2010. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  13. Damien McElroy (30 January 2012). "Syria: Bashar al Assad and family 'will be killed like Gaddafi'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  14. Syrian National Council Member Haitham Al-Maleh: Iranians and Russians Are Legitimate Targets for the Rebels in Syria, MEMRITV, Clip No. 3688, December 18, 2012. (see also: video clip).

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