Naisse, Aktham (1951–)

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Naisse, Aktham

Aktham Naisse (Nu'aysa) is a noted Syrian lawyer and human rights activist.


Syrian lawyer and human rights activist Naisse was born in Latakia, Syria, on 28 December 1951. Little has been published about his early life other than that he studied in Egypt, not surprising for a human rights advocate in authoritarian Syria who has had to operate clandestinely for much of his activist career. The Ba'th Party government of longtime president hafiz al-asad first arrested Naisse in February 1982 and held him for four months, during which time he was tortured. He subsequently was arrested in Syria on numerous occasions.

In December 1989 Naisse created the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria, which he chairs today. In a state such as Syria that tolerates no dissent whatsoever, this was a remarkably courageous initiative. The committee also formed a clandestine publication that year, Sawt al-Dimuqratiyya (The voice of democracy). In 1991 the committee publicly called for free elections, something that led to Naisse's December 1991 arrest and subsequent torture. In 1992 the Supreme State Security Court tried and sentenced him to nine years' imprisonment in the notorious Sayidnaya prison north of Damascus. Naisse had been tortured so badly that he reportedly could not even stand during the trial. Beyond that he suffered eye and kidney problems while in prison. Naisse eventually served seven years until his release in July 1998. Naisse was not permitted to practice law thereafter.


Asad's death in June 2000 allowed the door of political liberties open somewhat in Syria. On 10 December 2000 the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria was emboldened enough to issue a public declaration. But the climate in Syria under new president bashar al-asad (son of Hafiz al-Asad) soon changed. In August 2003 military security personnel questioned Naisse and threatened him and the committee. Undeterred, Naisse's committee posted a public letter on the Internet signed by three thousand and five hundred intellectuals and academics that called for the lifting of the state of emergency still in existence since the military coup of 1963 that brought the Ba'th Party to power. On 8 March 2004 the committee organized a peaceful sit-in demonstration in front of the Syrian parliament building in Damascus—an unprecedented act of public political protest in Syria. Approximately seven hundred demonstrators took part in the action. Naisse and one hundred others then presented the parliament with a petition signed by over seven thousand people who again called for an end to the state of emergency. It was a bold act of defiance.

Shortly thereafter, on 13 April 2004, Syrian military security personnel arrested Naisse in Latakia. He was sent once more to Sayidnaya prison, and suffered a stroke there that left him partially paralyzed. He began a hunger strike in prison, and was released on bail on 16 August 2004 pending trial. Human rights groups around the world campaigned for his release, and the court ultimately acquitted him on 26 June 2005.

The regime continues to watch Naisse. For example, on 11 August 2006, he was planning to host a meeting of Arab and Kurdish political groups in Syria at his home in Damascus, when security forces surrounded the house. Those in attendance were searched and sent away.


Naisse's work on behalf of political prisoners and democracy in Syria has earned him considerable international public attention, support, and awards in recent years. His 2004 arrest in particular became the subject of many global human rights groups' efforts to free him. In October 2004, after he had been released from prison on bail, Naisse's efforts were highlighted when he was awarded the Ninth Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Award (the first award went to the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela in 1985) in Brussels. That the government lifted the travel ban it had imposed on him and allowed him to travel to Belgium to receive the award is probably indicative of its sensitivity toward how it deals with him now that he has risen to the level of such international attention. In January 2005 a selection committee made up of representatives of eleven major human rights organizations selected Naisse to receive the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, further testimony of his international fame.


Aktham Naisse will be remembered as one of the most important human rights advocates in modern Syria who publicly defied the Ba'thist state's attempts to stifle him and other dissenters. Particularly noteworthy achievements were his efforts at forming the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria in 1989, and the 2004 sit-in at the front of the Syrian parliament.


"Aktham Naisse International Human Rights Prize 'Ludovic Trarieux' 2004." Institut des Droits de l'Homme des Avocats Européens. Available from

Gershowitz, Suzanne. "Dissident Watch: Aktham Naisse." Middle East Quarterly 12, no. 2 (Spring 2005). Available from

                                        Michael R. Fischbach


Name: Aktham Naisse (Nu'aysa)

Birth: 1951, Latakia, Syria

Family: Married with children

Nationality: Syrian


  • 1982: Arrested for the first time
  • 1989: Establishes the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria and distributes the Sawt al-Dimuqratiyya (Voice of democracy) publication
  • 1992: Imprisoned
  • 1998: Released from prison
  • 2004: Organizes sit-in in front of Syrian parliament; later arrested; receives Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Award
  • 2005: Acquitted and released; receives Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders