Syrian democracy activists face 15 years in prison
Twelve Syrian democracy activists are currently facing up to 15 years in prison for demanding democratic reform and human rights. The activists have been detained since December 2007 and January 2008, after organizing a meeting of the opposition grouping, the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change. Tens of other participants were arrested but later released without charge.
The activists are charged with “weakening national sentiment”, “broadcasting false or exaggerated news which could affect the morale of the country”, joining “an organization formed with the purpose of changing the financial or social status of the state” and “inciting sectarian strife”.
Proceedings have been marked by serious irregularities, Amnesty International reports:
The 12 activists were initially held incommunicado in
All three were arrested when police raided the meeting, along with Dr Walid al-Bunni; literature teacher and literary critic Jabr al-Shoufi; journalist ‘Ali al-’Abdullah; writer Fayez Sarah; Dr Yasser al-’Eit;, People’s Democratic Party member Muhammed Haji Darwish; engineer Marwan al-‘Ush; former member of parliament Riad Seif and artist Talal Abu Dan.
The Damascus Declaration brought together a coalition of political parties, human rights organizations and pro-democracy activists in October 2005 at a time when the Baathist regime was under considerable international pressure. UN investigator Detlev Mehlis implicated senior officials close to President Bashar al-Assad in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.
Liberal democrats joined with leftists, Islamists and Kurds in signing the declaration in an attempt to give the lie to international claims that
The diversity of the signatories is as significant as its content, with Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood joining the leftist-nationalist Democratic National Gathering, the Committees for Civil Society Revival, the Democratic Kurdish Alliance, the Democratic Kurdish Front, and the Future (Al-Mustaqbal) Party. Several prominent dissidents also signed, including imprisoned parliamentarian Riad Seif.
As one analysis notes, Assad’s regime has been fortunate with its domestic opposition:
Secular left-wingers, social democrats, liberals, even Kurds and supporters of political Islam – they all call for peaceful, gradual change from within and they all reject any idea of foreign intervention. What more could an authoritarian regime possibly want than such a moderate opposition?
The opposition seeks step-by-step democratisation, including a new law allowing independent political parties.
A verdict on the 12 activists currently facing trial is expected on 29 October.