Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS)

Syria: Human rights lawyer faces disciplinary process for political opinions

PUBLIC STATEMENT

Date: 23 September 2011

 Amnesty International has called on the Syrian Bar
Association to end disciplinary proceedings instigated against Syrian Kurdish
human rights lawyer Mustafa Kheder Osso as they appear to be aimed at
penalizing him for expressing political views in a TV interview and taking part
in a protest.

 

According to a decision that was sent to him on 18
September, a copy of which has been obtained by Amnesty International, Mustafa
Osso has been referred to a disciplinary council of the branch of the Bar
Association in al-Hasakah, a city in northern Syria. His first hearing is
scheduled for 2 October.

               

In a letter sent yesterday to Nizar Skaf, President of the
Syrian Bar Association, Amnesty International raised concerns that Mustafa Osso
is being disciplined principally for giving an interview to Al Jazeera during
which he made statements calling into question the legitimacy of the Syrian
President, as well as other statements that, according to the referral
decision, harmed the state’s “sovereignty and solemnity”, and for taking part
in a protest on 26 July in front of a court building in al-Hasakah calling for
the release of political prisoners.

 

Both actions were seen by the al-Hasakah branch as
violations of the Legal Profession Law No. 30 of 2010 and the Bar Association’s
rules of procedure, on the basis that a lawyer must not make any statements
without the prior approval of the relevant authorities and must perform their
profession through legal means and within the scope of their duties, which are
to legally represent and defend individuals before courts after obtaining the
official power of attorney.

 

Mustafa Osso, who is also the President of the unauthorized
Kurdish Organization for the Defence of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in
Syria (DAD), sees the referral decision as politically motivated. “This
decision is a clear indication of the constant deterioration of the status of
human rights in Syria,” He told Amnesty International on 20 September.

 

Amnesty International’s concerns about the case of Mustafa Osso
are heightened in light of the outcome of previous disciplinary proceedings
taken by the Bar Association against other lawyers known for their human rights
work, in particular Muhannad al-Hassani, who in 2009 was banned for life from
practising law on grounds that explicitly related to his legitimate and
peaceful human rights work.

 

“All human rights activists, especially those working in
state departments and institutions and who are members of its professional
associations, are at risk of disciplinary measures that may go as far as
barring them from practising their profession. These are very cruel penalties
against individuals and their families as they threaten their source of income
and so their future,” Mustafa Osso told Amnesty International.   

 

Amnesty International urges the Syrian Bar Association not
to discipline any lawyer for exercising their rights to freedom of expression,
opinion or assembly. While the Bar Association has a mandate to take
disciplinary proceedings against members whose professional conduct falls below
the appropriate standard, this must not be interpreted in such a way as to
penalize lawyers for pursuing the defence of human rights or for legitimately
exercising those rights.

 

Freedoms of expression, association and assembly continue to
be severely restricted in Syria despite the lifting of the 48-year-old state of
emergency on 21 April. The Syrian authorities have so far responded in the most
brutal manner to largely peaceful popular protests calling for political reform.  Amnesty International has obtained the names
of more than 2,200 people reported to have died or been killed during or in
connection with the protests since mid-March; many are believed to have been
shot by security forces using live ammunition while participating in peaceful
protests or attending funerals of people killed in earlier protests. Thousands
of other people have been arrested, with many held incommunicado at unknown
locations at which torture and other ill-treatment are reported to be rife. Syrian
human rights defenders are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in this
climate of repression. A number of them have been arrested and others have been
forced into hiding out of fear for their safety.