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SYRIA: Harsh crackdown on dissidents

November 1, 2008 | 12:41 pm

Riyad_seifTimes are dire for political dissidents in Syria. Riad Seif and his companions called for peaceful democratic change last year. Shortly afterward, several months of detention and interrogations began for the dozen democracy advocates.

They were, consequently, accused of conspiring to destabilize the country.

And on Wednesday, the verdict was finally proclaimed. The leading intellectuals were sentenced to 30 months in prison, a decision, described by human rights organizations, as another evidence of Damascus’ suppression of political freedom.

Syria has been ruled solely by the Baath party under a state of emergency laws for decades now.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, the trial was a “mere cover to legitimize the government’s repression of opposition groups and peaceful critics.”

Seif and the 11 other activists, including doctors, lawyers and writers, were convicted on charges of “weakening national sentiment” and “spreading false or exaggerated news which would affect the morale of the country.”

The entire sentencing session lasted for 20 minutes.

One of the convicted activists, Yasser Eiti, a 40-year-old physician and poet, was quoted as saying during the trial by the HRW:

The right to freedom of expression is a sacred right, and to give it up is to give up one’s humanity, and I defend my right and the right of any Syrian citizen in his freedom of expression. 

A description of the trial was posted on a website run from London by a Syrian dissident group, the Movement for Justice and Development:

The courtroom, which was filled with relatives, supporters and Western diplomats, exploded in riotous clapping after the [suspects] standing in the dock held hands and chanted: "Long live Syria, free for all its citizens' and 'A free Syria deserves all sacrifice."

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Riad Seif. Credit: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

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