Haithan Al Maleh

Renowned Syrian dissident lawyer and judge, 80-year old Haitham Maleh, believes the continuing brutality of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which has led to a death toll of over 5,000, is a sign that the regime is on the point of collapse.  Maleh spoke with The Global Journal during a stopover in Geneva (December 7) where he was scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her private meeting with opposition leaders of the Syrian National Council.  

Stated Maleh, "In the end I was only able to speak with one of Mrs. Clinton’s aides for about 15 minutes, but I gave him a letter outlining my concerns. Mainly this included putting pressure on Arab nations that have not closed their embassies in Damascus to do so, such as Oman and the UAE (United Arab Emirates).  We are asking that pressure also be put on former East bloc countries to follow the lead of other EU countries and withdraw their ambassadors. Even though they may not have significant ties to Syria, the gesture would help to isolate the Assad regime.  I also asked that measures be taken to make military movements by the regime more difficult."

Including intervention by NATO such as was done in Libya, in the name of protecting citizens?

- I do not agree with NATO intervention. I am not recommending air attacks or the introduction of foreign troops but rather other measures that were used in Libya such as disrupting electronic communications, especially in offshore shipping lanes.

What is your reaction to the interview President Assad gave to a US television network in which he denied being responsible for killing and ordering a brutal crackdown on his people?

- In this interview, Bashar Al-Assad appeared to be afraid and tried to distance himself from the crimes committed by his soldiers. But, according to the Syrian constitution he is responsible because he is in charge of the military and he is the head of the executive branch.  So how can he say that he is not responsible?  This is a sign of his weakness and his regime being on the verge of collapse.

Are you at all concerned that the US and the rest of the free world - in opposing the Assad regime - might be hastening the day when extremist Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood might gain power and impose Shari’a law on Syria?

- The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed for some time in Syria but those who speak for it in exile say the movement has abandoned its calls for violent resistance and for the application of Shari’a law or for a Sunni uprising against the Alawites (ruling minority). Our laws today are not according to Shari’a and I don’t believe most Syrians want that for the future. They want democratic change - to be able to choose their own leaders.

But aren’t you concerned that asking for support from the US could give the wrong message to the Arab world?

- The Syrian people, like all Arabs, thought President Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009 was a big first step. We are now asking him to follow up on his beautiful words with concrete actions. The US remains an important world leader despite its historic support for dictatorships throughout the Middle East. It is speaking forcefully about encouraging democratic movements around the world.  But frankly, the role of the EU is more important for us. It has more economic pressure it can apply and it has already reacted forcefully at the UN.  Also, I have given the EU 200 names of Syrian individuals who attacked and killed their own people and so far 60 have been delivered to the ICC (International Criminal Court).

Why were you not included in the talks with Syrian National Council leaders here in Geneva? What do you think of them?

- I am not a member of their Council.  Most of them have lived outside Syria for years and have foreign citizenship.  They did nothing during the decade 1980 to 1990 when over 50,000 people were imprisoned. Syria is one vast prison.

You have a certain reputation as a leading dissident opposed to the Assad regimes over the past 50 years and you were imprisoned several times. Tell us about that.

- I was first arrested by Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and jailed for 6 years. Then I was again arrested, this time by his son Bashar, during the street demonstrations of October 2009. I was imprisoned for another 3 years. In July this year, I was ‘invited’ to discuss my situation with the authorities after being released under an amnesty extended to prisoners over 70 years old.  There are more than 10,000 political prisoners in Syria today.  On the day I was scheduled to meet with the regime, I managed to flee the country through Turkey.

So are you now seeking asylum in Switzerland or anywhere else?

- Never. I am Syrian and my place is in my country with my people.


© 2011 - Marwan Bassiouni - All rights reserved