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Syria: Release Of 5 Prisoners Of Conscience Urged

Syria: Amnesty International repeats its call for the immediate release of five prisoners of conscience and for the dropping of all charges against them

On the eve of three trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) of five prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International is repeating its calls for the men to be immediately and unconditionally released. Four are detained for their peaceful and legitimate use of the Internet; one is detained for his work in defence of human rights. Amnesty International calls for the charges brought against the five men to be dropped.

On Sunday 25 July the trials will resume, following hearings on 15 March and 6 June, of the brothers Muhannad Qutaysh and Haytham Qutaysh, and Yahia al-Aws, who were arrested 18 months ago, reportedly for sending articles to an electronic newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. On the same day, student Mas'oud Hamid will appear before the SSSC following his arrest on 24 July 2003, reportedly for posting photos onto Internet sites of a peaceful Kurdish demonstration in Damascus.

Muhannad Qutaysh and Yahia al-Aws are both charged with "obtaining information that must remain secret for the safety of the state and the interest of a foreign state"; Haytham and Muhannad Qutaysh are both charged with "inciting for obtaining information that must remain secret for the safety of the state and the interest of a foreign state"; Haythem Qutaysh is also charged with "carrying out writings not approved by the government which expose Syria and the Syrians to the threat of hostile acts that harm Syria's relations with a foreign state"; and Yahia al-Aws and Muhannad Qutaysh are also charged with "disseminating false news abroad". Mas'oud Hamid is reportedly charged with "unlawful" use of the Internet.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned that the four men are at risk of being handed down harsh prison sentences in the wake of the SSSC's 20 June 2004 sentencing of 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri, following an unfair trial, to two and a half years' imprisonment, on charges of "disseminating false information" via the Internet. Over the years Amnesty International has documented evidence showing how trials held before the SSSC are grossly unfair.Its verdicts are not subject to appeal, and it is not bound by the rules of the Code of Criminal Procedures. SSSC trials are also unfair because defendants have restricted access to lawyers; judges, especially the President of the Court, have been granted wide discretionary powers; and confessions allegedly extracted under duress or torture are accepted as evidence. In April 2001, the Human Rights Committee - the body of experts that mo On 26 July, human rights defender and prisoner of conscience from 1991 to 1998, Aktham Nu'aysa, will also be tried before the SSSC on charges relating to his work in defence of human rights. He previously appeared before the SSSC on 22 April. He is the head of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights (CDDLHR), which has led a nationwide campaign for respect for human rights, including for an end to the state of emergency which has been in force in Syria since 1963, in the context of which multiple human rights violations have been committed. He faces several charges including "carrying out activities contrary to the socialist system of the state" and "opposing the objectives of the revolution" - which could carry a sentence of up to 15 years. He is being held in solitary confinement but has been allowed to meet with his lawyers, and briefly with his fa

Muhannad Qutaysh, Haytham Qutaysh, Yahia al-Aws and Aktham Nu'aysa are detained in Sednaya Prison. Mas'oud Hamid remains in incommunicado detention at 'Adra Prison. Amnesty International considers all five men to be prisoners of conscience detained for their peaceful and legitimate practise of their right to freedom of expression. In the event of any of them being sentenced to terms of imprisonment, Amnesty International will continue to campaign for their unconditional release.

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