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Syria: Rights Activists Detained in Crackdown

Syria: Rights Activists Detained in Crackdown

(New York) – Syrian authorities escalated a crackdown on the country’s human rights activists by arresting four of them over the past week, Human Rights Watch said today. As of Friday evening Damascus time, only one had been released.

Syrian security forces arrested Ali al-Abdullah at his home at midday on Thursday. A few hours later, they returned to arrest his son Muhammad, a law student and a human rights activist in his own right. Ali and his son remain in detention. Another son, Omar, has been in custody since March 18.

On Wednesday night, security forces detained Muhammad Najati Tayyara, former vice-president of the Human Rights Association in Syria. The authorities had summoned him for a meeting on Monday that he declined to attend. Associates of Tayyara indicated that he was arrested for remarks he made at a ceremony on March 12 held to commemorate the second anniversary of clashes in March 2004 between Kurdish demonstrators and security forces in the northern city of Qamishli that left more than 30 dead and 400 injured. The authorities released Tayyara late on Thursday evening after he had spent 24 hours in a filthy jail cell.

“President Bashar al-Asad should immediately free Ali al-Abdullah and his sons and order his security forces to halt this blatant intimidation of human rights activists,” said Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch.

Since their arrest, the al-Abdullah family has been unable to reach Ali or Muhammad, and the authorities have provided no information regarding their whereabouts or the reasons for their detention. A fellow activist told Human Rights Watch that on the day before their arrest, Ali and Muhammad were monitoring the behavior of security forces outside the Supreme State Security Court who were harassing relatives of defendants due to appear before the court. Muhammad al-Abdullah told an officer that they had no right to do so.

Another son, Omar, a university student arrested on March 18 for campaigning to form a youth group, remains in detention.

Ali and Muhammad were also both arrested in 2005 – Ali in May, for reading a message written by exiled Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sader Eddine al-Bayanouni during a meeting of the Jamal Atassi political discussion forum, and Muhammad in July, for participating in the creation of a committee for the relatives of detainees in Syrian prisons.

Human Rights Watch called on President al-Asad to end the harassment and persecution of human rights defenders and to release Ali al-Abdullah and his two sons, Muhammad and Omar, immediately and without condition.

These latest arrests fall within a pattern of increased harassment of human rights activists in Syria. Two weeks ago, Syrian security forces detained Dr. Ammar Qurabi, a spokesperson for the Arab Human Rights Organization in Syria, for 48 hours following his return to Damascus from a trip to Washington, D.C., and Paris.

Last November, the human rights activist Dr. Kamal al-Labwani was arrested moments after he landed in Syria returning from a trip abroad.

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