Syrian Court Jails Lawyer for Insulting Army, Government

Damascus military tribunal sentences human rights activist to three-months in prison for 'insulting' letter.

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Syrian human rights lawyer on Saturday vowed to appeal a 3-months jail sentence for criticizing the government of Syria's president-for-life, Bashar Assad.

The former head of the Human Rights Association in Syria, Haitham Maleh, was tried and found guilty by a Damascus military court for insulting the army and two government officials.

Maleh was exonerated, however, from the charges of discrediting the presidency and criticizing the military leadership and his sentence was commuted to only ten days imprisonment.

Maleh, 75, told the German news agency, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, that the charges were raised against him following a recent letter addressed to Syrian President Bashar Assad concerning a client being tried by a military court.

In his letter, Melham stated that the law to establish military courts was issued "in 1968 at the start of the era of military tyranny," and therefore was unacceptable for the present government.

Melah's letter added that "since the start of the Madrid peace conference in 1991, Syria has no longer been in a state of war with Israel, and thus the emergency law is no longer acceptable."

The human rights lawyer said that although Syrian authorities considered his statements as "insulting to the president, the army, the flag and the state... what I have said in my memo was no more than legal facts on grounds."

He also criticized as "a step backward" the recent arrest of human rights activists who signed the so-called Damascus-Beirut Declaration, a petition calling for improving the Syrian-Lebanese relations.

Maleh, a former judge, was imprisoned for seven years in the 1980s and was recently awarded the Dutch Geuzen Medal for his activities in promoting democracy in Syria.

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