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UN Working Group Decides in Hogan Lovells Pro Bono Case that Prominent Human Rights Lawyer Was Arbitrarily Detained and is Entitled to Reparations

31 October 2011

NEW YORK, 31 October 2011 – Hogan Lovells announced today that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released an opinion declaring the detention of Muhannad al-Hassani, a prominent Syrian human rights lawyer, to be arbitrary and illegal under international law. Mr. al-Hassani formerly served as President of the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiyah. In recognition of his work as an attorney representing human rights defenders in Syria, he received the 2010 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

In June 2009, the Syrian government arrested Mr. al-Hassani for monitoring the sessions of a special “Supreme State Security Court” used by the Syrian regime to punish dissidents. In June 2010, after a sham trial for the alleged crime of weakening the Syrian state’s “prestige” and “national sentiments,” which clearly violated international standards of justice, Mr. al-Hassani was sentenced to three years in prison.

In its opinion, released on Friday, 28 October 2011, the UN Working Group specifically found “that the detention of Mr. Al-Hassani follows from the exercise of [his] rights and freedoms … and his work as a human rights defender” and was thus illegal under international law. The fact that the Syrian regime in June 2011 released Mr. Al-Hassani as part of a general “amnesty” did not deter the UN Working Group from making this finding. Moreover, the UN Working Group also called upon the Syrian government to provide Mr. Al-Hassani with “adequate reparation” for his illegal detention under Article 9(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"The Working Group's decision is significant not only for finding that the Syrian government violated Mr. Al-Hassani's rights but also for holding that even after releasing him, that government has ongoing obligations to pay compensation to him," said Marc Gottridge, partner and lead Hogan Lovells lawyer on the case. "We now call upon Syria to honor those obligations under the law and provide Mr. Al-Hassani with the reparations the Working Group has decided he is owed for his wrongful imprisonment."

Marc Gottridge and Jason Porta of the New York office of Hogan Lovells worked in collaboration with Freedom Now, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that is dedicated to freeing nonviolent prisoners of conscience worldwide, to petition on behalf of Mr. al-Hassani.

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