Middle East
Syria sends rights activist to jail
Award-winning lawyer given three-year sentence for "weakening national morale".
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2010 16:18 GMT
Charge of 'weakening national morale' is used often by the Syrian government against political opponents

A leading Syrian lawyer who won an international human rights award for defending opposition figures has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Mohannad al-Hassani, 43, was arrested last year after campaigning against the charge on which he was convicted - weakening national morale", which he called"medieval".

Wednesday's ruling in favour of the charge - used regularly by the government against political opponents - was issued by a court in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

"Regular criminals receive leniency, not Mohannad," Abdallah Khalil, Hassani's lawyer, said as the verdict was announced at the Palace of Justice.

Hassani last month received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, named after the first head of Amnesty International, for his work in defending Syrian political prisoners and the rule of law.

As the verdict was announced, the packed courtroom erupted in standing ovation in support of Hassani, who was in a cage with suspects who were awaiting sentencing for public indecency and armed robbery.

Many of those who applauded were former political prisoners who spent long terms for "weakening national morale".

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