Syria jails rights activist for 12 years for 'encouraging' US to attack country
Verdict harshest sentence against opposition member during bashar assad's rule
Source: AFP / Compiled by Daily Star
Friday, May 11, 2007
Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani was jailed for 12 years Thursday, in the harshest sentence against an opposition activist since President Bashar Assad came to power in 2000, a rights group said. The verdict was the latest development in a crackdown by the regime against rights activists in Syria.
Labwani, who was arrested in November 2005 after holding talks with White House officials on a tour of the US and Europe, was convicted of having contact with a foreign state "to encourage it to attack Syria."
Labwani looked shocked for a few seconds when the judge pronounced the verdict, then gave a faint smile and raised his fist in the air, without speaking. Relatives quietly murmured "God is great."
"It is too much," whispered Labwani's wife, Samar.
"This is the harshest judgment against a prisoner of conscience since President Bashar Assad came to power" after his father Hafez Assad died, said lawyer Ammar Qorabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
"Kamal Labwani was sentenced to life, commuted to 12 years in prison, for having contacts with a foreign country aimed at encouraging it to attack Syria," Qorabi told AFP.
He said the sentence was all the more surprising as it came amid expectations of an amnesty for prisoners of conscience to mark a planned referendum on the Syrian presidency.
Qorabi charged that the verdict was "illegal" because it had been modified from the original charges on which the court case was based. His organization said Labwani could appeal against the sentence.
Labwani's lawyer, Abdel-Rahim Ghmaza, said opposition figures and US and European diplomats were in the Damascus court for the verdict.
Rights groups complained last month that Labwani, founder of the opposition Democratic Liberal Gathering in Syria, was being held in an underground cell in total darkness and that his health was deteriorating.
Labwani was arrested at Damascus airport after his return from a trip abroad to call for peaceful democratic reform in Syria, including talks with the deputy national security adviser to US President George W. Bush.
Nadim Houri, a Syrian researcher with Human Rights Watch, urged the international community to stand up for Syrian activists.
"The crackdown is continuing and there is really no sign of it abating ... Clearly, Syrian authorities have no intention of opening up any space for political reform, and I think what we're seeing today is another symbol of the peaceful opposition to the Assad regime being punished for their views," he told The Associated Press.
The United States in March slammed Syria for arbitrarily detaining political opponents, and voiced particular concern for Labwani and fellow political prisoner Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent human-rights lawyer who was arrested in Damascus in May 2006 after signing an appeal for radical reform in relations between Syria and Lebanon. - AFP, AP
Discuss the political situation in the Middle-East (Syria, Israel-Palestine, Irak...)
2 posts • Page 1 of 1