Syrian authorities should abolish the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), a special court that exists outside the ordinary criminal justice system to prosecute those perceived as challenging the government, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday. In the 73-page report, "Far from Justice: Syria's Supreme State Security Court," Human Rights Watch documents how the SSSC has relied on sham trials to prosecute at least 153 defendants since January 2007 on the basis of vague charges that criminalize freedom of expression. Those prosecuted include 10 bloggers, 16 Kurdish activists, and eight citizens accused of "insulting the Syrian president" in private conversations.
The report is based on interviews with former defendants before the SSSC, their lawyers, and human rights activists in Syria, as well as an extensive review of trial notes taken by Western diplomats, who are the only outside observers to have had access to the court. "The State Security Court is one of Syria's main pillars of repression," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "It's a kangaroo court providing judicial cover for the persecution of activists, and even ordinary citizens, by Syria's security agencies. Defendants have no chance of defending themselves, much less proving their innocence against the bogus charges brought against them."
By decree, the SSSC is exempt from the rules of criminal procedure that apply in Syria's criminal courts. Defense lawyers play a largely ceremonial role in a charade of due process. They usually see their clients for the first time on the day of the trial and the court denies them the opportunity to engage in oral defense or call on witnesses. Most trials consist of four short sessions, often less than 30 minutes each. Defendants have no right to appeal their verdict to a higher tribunal.