On this 10th day of December 2010, the International Day for Human Rights, my father, Mr. Haitham Maleh, who is considered the father of the Human Rights movement in Syria, has been sitting in a prison cell in Damascus for more than a year.
Mr. Haitham Maleh celebrated his birthday recently away from family, his wife, his daughter, three sons, three granddaughters and three grandsons. He started his eightieth year of age in prison because, according to the Asad regime, he was spreading “false news” that could “weaken the national morale.”
A regime that has been killing Syrians for speaking out, imprisoning them and sending them to exile regardless of their age, sex or religion, worries that my father’s words are what is weakening national morale.
Mr. Haitham Maleh uses the utmost of his skills as an attorney to defend the rights of anyone without discrimination
This is a man who spent his life fighting for his country and for his fellow men regardless of their age, sex, religion or national origin. Mr. Haitham Maleh uses the utmost of his skills as an attorney to defend the rights of anyone without discrimination , and that’s why you will not find two people arguing over his credibility, his fairness and his straightforwardness.
When I refer to him as “my father,” they tell me “he is not only your father: he is the father of all Syrians”
Everywhere I travel I meet people in different parts of the world who tell me stories about how they got to know my father and how he touched their lives. He is a hero to many. When I refer to him as “my father,” they tell me “he is not only your father: he is the father of all Syrians”.
This man stood up for what is right. It did not matter to him how much this would cost him. The first time he went to prison for what he stands for was in 1951. Then under the Asad regime he went to prison again, spending 7 years in prison in the 1980’s for fighting for the human rights of his fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
The Syrian Bar Association threatened to freeze his pension. He faced a further disciplinary action by the Syrian Bar Association when it disbared him for three years for talking to the media about some of the human rights cases he was defending. He faced two military tribunals, in 2002 and 2005. He has not been allowed to travel outside the country since 2004.
Last year, on October 14, 2009, Mr. Haitham Maleh was abducted by the Syrian regime after he gave a TV interview. The state forced his disappearance for almost a week. When he appeared again, it was in front of a military tribunal, which sentenced him to three years. This was his third military tribunal, even though he is a civilian who never served in an army in his life.
They think they can silence a man such as my father but they failed to learn from their previous mistakes. My father came out of prison in 1987 more determined than ever to fight for the human rights of others until there is no prisoner of opinion left in Syria. My father will come out of prison again by the will of God stronger than before, and he will continue his mission in life.
My father is considered to be the oldest prisoner of opinion in the world. But it seems Syria holds another world record because Tal Al-Mallouhi, the 19 year old blogger imprisoned in December 27, 2009, is considered the youngest prisoner of opinion in the world.
Let the future show that the West is placing its own narrow interests over human rights by supporting yet another criminal regime just as bad as that of Saddam Hussain’s and this is all against the rights of the people tyrannized by this regime
I can say that we have an equal opportunity human rights abusing regime in Syria. Yet Western nations that brag about protecting human rights is dealing with this criminal regime as if it is the legitimate ruler of Syria. It is not. Let the future show that the West is placing its own narrow interests over human rights by supporting yet another criminal regime just as bad as that of Saddam Hussain’s and this is all against the rights of the people tyrannized by this regime.
Mr. Haitham Maleh is not afraid of death and he is not afraid of prison, having experienced it three times already. Mr. Haitham Maleh broke the fear factor so there is nothing to stop him. The Syrian regime can keep arresting him and Mr. Haitham Maleh will come out every time stronger and more determined than ever before.
Iyas Maleh is human rights activist and President of the Geneva-based Haitham Maleh Foundation