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Syria: Release three prisoners of conscience

Syria: Release three prisoners of conscience

Amnesty International is calling on the Syrian authorities to immediately release and drop all charges against two men due to stand trial on 22 February, and a third who has been detained for a year. All three are being held for expressing their opinion in a peaceful manner.

Hassan Saleh and Marwan 'Uthman, two Syrian Kurds, have been in detention for over a year after participating in a peaceful protest. 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri will have been detained exactly for one year on Monday for his use of the internet.

"We urge the Syrian authorities to immediately release these men. Their only crime is to have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression," said Amnesty International today.

Hassan Saleh and Marwan 'Uthman are scheduled to appear before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) on 22 February. Both belong to the Syrian Kurdish Yeketi party. They have been charged with "membership of an unauthorized organization", "inciting sectarian strife" and "attempting to sever a part of the Syrian territories".

They were arrested on 15 December 2002, reportedly following an invitation to a meeting with the Minister of the Interior. The arrest came five days after they took part in a peaceful demonstration during which they presented a memorandum calling for greater rights for Syrian Kurds to the President of the National Assembly. They are being held incommunicado in solitary confinement at Adra prison, near Damascus. There are concerns for Hassan Saleh's health as he is reportedly suffering from chest pains and being denied medical treatment.

'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri is reportedly charged with offences connected to his use of the internet and sending articles to his friends. He was arrested at a checkpoint between Qunaytra and Damascus on 23 February. He was beaten in custody before being transferred to Sednaya prison where he is being held incommunicado. On 14 December he appeared before a state security court which set the next court session for March 2004.

Three other possible prisoners of conscience reportedly remain detained in Sednaya for their use of the internet. They include the actor Muhannad Koutaish, his brother and Yahia Alous. All were arrested reportedly for sending articles to an electronic newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. They were taken to a state security court and charged with "publishing false reports".


Some 120 political detainees were released at the end of January 2004. Since coming to power in July 2000, President Bashar al-Assad has released hundreds of prisoners in amnesties, including scores of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

While welcoming these releases, Amnesty International remains concerned that hundreds of political prisoners remain in prolonged detention without trial or are serving sentences imposed after unfair trials. They include prisoners of conscience and scores of people who had "disappeared" following their arrest or detention by Syrian security services.

The Syrian authorities impose heavy restrictions on the production and circulation of Kurdish literature, including books and music. In the past, the Syrian authorities have arrested and detained Syrian Kurds without charge for their involvement in the organization of Kurdish cultural activities, including the Kurdish Nawruz (New Year) celebrations.

A number of other Syrians remain detained as prisoners of conscience. Eight Kurds are still held incommunicado in 'Adra prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration on 25 June. They are awaiting a further session before the SSSC. Eight prominent human rights activists and prisoners of conscience, sentenced to up to 10 years' imprisonment after unfair trials in 2002, also remain held in solitary confinement at 'Adra. They were involved in the growing civil society movement known as the 'Damascus Spring' before being arrested in a government crackdown.

Amnesty International considers trials held before the SSSC to be grossly unfair. In April 2001, the Human Rights Committee - the body of experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - expressed concern about the procedures of the SSSC. They stated that these procedures were incompatible with the provisions of the ICCPR, to which Syria is a state party.

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