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Cablegate: Human Rights Updates -- Sarg Budges On Tip, But

VZCZCXRO8246
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #0106/01 0380343
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 070343Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7320
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0753
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA PRIORITY 0105
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0803
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 000106
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, DRL/NESCA
NSC FOR MCDERMOTT
LONDON FOR MILLER, PARIS FOR NOBLES
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2020
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KISL KMPI KTIP KWMN SCUL SOCI SY
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS UPDATES -- SARG BUDGES ON TIP, BUT
LITTLE ELSE
REF: A. DAMASCUS 00036
B. 09 DAMASCUS 00787
C. 09 DAMASCUS 00780
D. 09 DAMASCUS 00734
E. 09 DAMASCUS 00727
F. 09 DAMASCUS 00534
Classified By: CDA Charles Hunter for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: SARG pressure on civil society and human
rights activists has been unrelenting since the 2007
detention of the Damascus Declaration National Council’s
leadership. The SARG consistently retaliated against any
public statements, including press reports, deemed critical
of the regime. The high-profile arrests of lawyers Muhanad
al-Hasani and Haitham al-Maleh sent tremors through the
domestic and international human rights community, eliciting
high-level statements of protest from the U.S., U.K., France,
Canada, and the European Parliament. Despite these
condemnations, the SARG, enjoying what Foreign Minister Walid
al-Muallim characterized in a December 29 speech to
parliament as "a year of political success in every sense of
the term, and on all fronts," appeared ever more inclined to
clamp down on potentially dissenting voices. To that end,
the First Criminal Court rejected jailed DDNC members’
appeals, including XXXXXXXXXXXX, for early release. The first
weeks of the new decade produced no evidence the SARG had
resolved to improve personal freedoms in Syria.
Nevertheless, as the United Nations Human Rights Council’s
2011 Universal Periodic Review of Syria approaches, the
SARG’s responses to activists over the next eight months
should provide a useful lens through which to view the
regime’s readiness to endure domestic political dissent. End
summary.
--------------------
Key Jailed Activists
--------------------
2. (C) Muhanad al-Hasani Update: Jailed Syrian Human Rights
Organization-SWASIAH leader and human rights lawyer Munahad
al-Hasani XXXXXXXXXXXX was last seen at the Damascus Second
Criminal Court on January 4 and 5 as the result of a
procedural error. The transfer judge, who is responsible for
routing criminal cases to the appropriate court, sent
Hasani’s case to the Second Criminal Court for a pre-trial
administrative interrogation. In doing so, the judge
overlooked a pending appeal by Hasani’s lawyer to have the
case sent to the Supreme Court. Hasani’s lawyers argued that
until the appeal was ruled on, the transfer judge technically
had no authority to assign the case. Oddly, Hasani disagreed
with his lawyers, expressing a preference to get his trial
underway quickly rather than wait on a potentially lengthy
appeals process. Nevertheless, the administrative
interrogation was canceled pending a ruling on the appeal.
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
4. (C) Haitham al-Maleh Update: The case against human rights
lawyer Haitham al-Maleh (refs C and D), arrested on October
14 and incarcerated at Adra prison, continued under the
jurisdiction of the Military Magistrate. Maleh had a
preliminary hearing at the Damascus Military Court on October
25, but diplomatic observers were denied entry. The MFA has
verbally rejected appeals for admission to the court, which
diplomats have always had in the past, by the Canadian
Ambassador. On January 31, the Cassation Court rejected
lawyer Hassan Abdul Azim’s appeal that the case against Maleh
be dropped. The court’s decision cleared the way for the
DAMASCUS 00000106 002 OF 004
magistrate to send Maleh’s file to the Military Court in
Damascus for trial. No trial dates have been set.
5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
-------------------
TIP Law: Next Steps
-------------------
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
(Comment: In the past, trafficked individuals, whether for
forced labor or sexual exploitation, were often subject to
detention on criminal grounds if involved in prostitution or
lacked proper immigration status. End Comment.)
7. (C) On the SARG’s capacity for implementing the law, XXXXXXXXXXXX
struck a note of caution. In requiring government agencies
to work exclusively with licensed NGOs, the law effectively
marginalized those NGOs with the most relevant experience in
the field. XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed unlicensed NGOs like SWO were
ultimately best positioned to work on implementation.
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
------------------------------------------
Barada TV: The Opposition in Klieg Lights?
------------------------------------------
9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX of MEPI-supported Barada TV
XXXXXXXXXXXX outlined the many challenges facing the channel
in a December 23 meeting. XXXXXXXXXXXX also affirmed the channel,s
significance to the political opposition inside Syria and
described future projects XXXXXXXXXXXX hoped to see implemented. One
of the main difficulties, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, was that Barada had from
its inception openly identified itself as part of the
political opposition. In retrospect, XXXXXXXXXXXX admitted, XXXXXXXXXXXX
regretted this decision since it had made in-country
operations unnecessarily difficult from the outset. In an
effort to shed its exclusively oppositionist image, XXXXXXXXXXXX
said the channel would mix political programming with shows
DAMASCUS 00000106 003 OF 004
about culture, the environment, and economic conditions in
the country. XXXXXXXXXXXX also expressed hope that a new Kurdish
program would soon be broadcast. XXXXXXXXXXXX admitted Hotbird was
not the ideal satellite channel for Barada since few people
in Syria had access to it. XXXXXXXXXXXX
In the future, XXXXXXXXXXXX observed, the key to Barada,s success would
be harnessing the youth and bridging the gap between
old-guard political opposition figures and young people who
were prepared for political change, but not members of any
opposition party.
10. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed reports we had heard from other
contacts about the SARG,s interest in chasing down the
financial and political support structure behind Barada.
Security agents called XXXXXXXXXXXX in for questioning in October and
repeatedly asked XXXXXXXXXXXX about XXXXXXXXXXXX affiliations with the U.S.
Embassy and whether XXXXXXXXXXXX knew Jim Prince and someone named
"Ugo" (or "Hugo"), the latter of whom agents described as
being involved with XXXXXXXXXXXX. XXXXXXXXXXXX
truthfully denied personal knowledge of the individuals as
well as ever having visited the Embassy, XXXXXXXXXXXX.
----------------------------
Conservative Cleric on Trial
----------------------------
11. (C) In an animated talk-show performance in Qatar,
televised October 20 on the al-Jazeerah channel, conservative
Syrian Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Kouki upbraided Egyptian Grand
Sheikh Tantawi for banning the "niqab" at al-Azhar
University, noting the decision coincided with the delay of
vote on the Goldstone Report and the "European crusade
against the hijab." In his comments, Kouki also implied
First Lady Asma al-Asad should wear the niqab. In what many
saw as a nod to the thawing Egyptian-Syrian relationship,
Syrian authorities arrested Kouki immediately upon his
October 22 return to Syria, charging him with weakening
national sentiment (Penal Code Article 285), spreading false
news aimed at undermining the prestige of the state (Article
287), inciting sectarian strife (Article 307), and contempt
for the president (Article 374).
12. (C) During his first investigative hearing at the
Damascus First Criminal Court on January 7, Kouki pleaded not
guilty on all counts, noting he had "preserved" the prestige
of the state during the telecast, not harmed it. In a second
January 11 investigative hearing, judge Ahmad Bakkour
accepted the defense lawyer’s (Muhammad Sayyah al-Muarrawi
and Muhammad Assam Zaghloul) arguments and questioned Kouki
further. Because the judge’s questions were formal and
narrow in range, the court permitted Kouki to submit a more
fulsome written testimony. His next hearing was scheduled
for February 10.
13. (C) Comment: Setting aside the prospects for behavior
change raised by recent TIP legislation, Post expects SARG
pressure to continue up to and through the projected summer
2010 release of the 12 members of the Damascus Declaration
convicted in 2008. We doubt the impending 2011 UNHRC
Universal Periodic Review will have a profound affect on
behavior, though it might induce the SARG to step more
quietly for a short period. The request for agrement for a
new Ambassador, combined with past and upcoming high-level
visits, will not have disposed the SARG any more kindly
towards human rights discussions. If appropriate, the
Department, in its meetings with SARG interlocutors, could
temper praise over the recent anti-TIP legislation with a
message that improving bilateral relations obliges the USG to
add frank and principled talks about human rights to the
agenda, just as it does with all its international partners.
If the SARG establishes firmly that the U.S. was continuing
to fund Barada TV, however, it would view USG involvement as
a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime. Just as SARG
officials have used the U.S. position on Operation Cast Lead
and the Goldstone Report to shut down discussions on human
rights, it could similarly try to use Barada TV to diminish
our credibility on the issue. End comment.
DAMASCUS 00000106 004 OF 004
HUNTER

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