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Syria: Charges against 14 human rights activists

Syria: The authorities must drop charges against 14 human rights activists

Amnesty International today called on the Syrian authorities to drop all charges against 14 human rights activists standing trial before a military court on 22 October for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

"Trials before military courts fall far short of international standards for fair trials. If these men are convicted, Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and will campaign for their immediate release."

"Not only do the Syrian authorities not allow space for people to meet and exchange opinions but they take action against and actively suppress freedom of expression," said Amnesty International. "If these activists are convicted it will have serious repercussions for human rights in Syria. The authorities must take a firm stance in favour of freedom of expression."

The 14 men were arrested by the police on 23 August 2003 when they were attending a lecture marking the 40th anniversary of the declaration of the state of emergency in Syria. They are reportedly charged with "affiliation to a secret organization and carrying out acts which could incite factional conflict within the nation".

The men include Fateh Jamus and Safwan 'Akkash, both members of the Party for Communist Action and former prisoners of conscience who in 1983 were sentenced to 15 years in prison after grossly unfair trials. The other twelve are 'Abd al-Ghani Bakri, Hazim 'Ajaj al-Aghra'i, Muhammad Deeb Kor, 'Abd al-Jawwad al-Saleh, Hashem al-Hashem, Yassar Qaddur, Zaradesht Muhammad, Rashid Sha'ban, Fuad Bawadqji, Ghazi Mustafa, Najib Dedem and Samir 'Abd al-Karim Nashar.

Amnesty International also calls upon the Syrian authorities to bring all its legislation in line with international law, including Articles 18 - 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guaranteeing the right to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association and the right to exercise these freedoms without undue interference.

In addition, Amnesty International is gravely concerned at the extremely long duration of the state of emergency in Syria, which has remained in force since being declared in Syria on 8 March 1963. A state of emergency is by definition a temporary legal response to an exceptional and grave threat to the nation. The organization is also concerned that the imposition of the state of emergency is not consistent with the requirements of human rights law, particularly Article 4 of the ICCPR. In April 2001, the Human Rights Committee, the body that monitors states' implementation of the ICCPR, expressed concern over the existence of the state of emergency legislation that "does not provide remedies against measures limiting citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms".

"A perpetual state of emergency can only contribute to making human rights violations permanent," stressed Amnesty International.

Background

Ten human rights activists were arrested and detained following their involvement in civil society meetings in 2001. They were sentenced to prison by the Supreme State Security Court and the Criminal Court, after grossly unfair trials, for periods of between two and five years, and were designated by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience. Eight of them - Ma'mun al-Humsi, Riad Seif, Walid al-Bunni, Kamal al-Labwani, 'Aref Dalilah, Habib Salih, Habib 'Issa and Fawaz Tello -- continue to be detained in 'Adra prison.

World Wide Appeal: Syria: Fears for health of long-term prisoner, take action! http://amnesty-news.c.tep1.com/maabzNmaa1sBsbb0hPub/

View all AI documents on Syria: http://amnesty-news.c.tep1.com/maabzNmaa1sBtbb0hPub/

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