Human Rights First Decries Mounting Repression against Human Rights Defenders in Syria
New York, June 18, 2007 – The Syrian government should immediately release seven young activists sentenced to prison yesterday for peacefully discussing and promoting human rights and democracy said Human Rights First today.
Syria’s Supreme State Security Court convicted and sentenced Tareq al-Ghourani (25) and Maher Ibrahim Esber (26) to seven years in prison and Husam Melhem (22), Ayham Saqr (31), Allam Fakhour (29), Omar al-Abdullah (21) and Diab Siriyeh (21) to five years’ imprisonment on the charge of “carrying out activities or making written statements or speeches that expose Syria to the risk of hostile operations.” The court also deprived the seven young men of their civil rights.
“The Syrian government should put an end to its campaign of repression against human rights defenders in Syria and immediately release all non-violent activists who have been jailed for exercising their basic rights and freedoms” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First.
This sentence is the latest in a series of court decisions that have recently targeted civil society in Syria. On April 24, 2007 human right lawyer Anwar al-Bunni was sentenced to 5 years on the charge of “disseminating false information likely to undermine the morale of the nation.” Less than three weeks later, on May 10, 2007, pro-democracy advocate Kamal al-Labwani received a twelve-year prison term for “contacting a foreign government and inciting aggression against Syria” and on May 13, 2007, writer and journalist Michel Kilo and activist Mahmud Issa received three years’ imprisonment for “weakening national sentiment.”
The seven young activists sentenced yesterday had been detained for more than one year by the Syrian authorities for setting up an independent pro-democracy discussion group and publishing articles on the Internet criticizing the lack of democracy and freedom in Syria. Some of them were also involved in the creation of an online youth forum.
Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh who has monitored the case told Human Rights First: “Through this harsh sentence, the government wants to send a chilling message to the younger generation and make clear that any independent youth activity is forbidden. All attempts to develop peaceful youth movements have been nipped in the bud.”
Since their arrests between January 26, 2006 and March 18, 2006, the seven young men have been held in nearly incommunicado detention and have reportedly been subject to torture and harsh treatment.
“With this series of sentences, the Syrian government is sending a clear signal that it will not abide by its international obligations to uphold the basic rights and freedoms of its people. Non- violent human rights defenders in Syria are paying the price for this blatant disregard of international law,” added Byrnes.