Urgent Interventions

Syria: Wave of arrests of political activists and human rights defenders


Syria: wave of arrests

Damascus-Geneva-Paris, 27 May 2005 - The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and their member organisation, the Committees for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Liberties in Syria (CDF) express their deepest concerns with regard to the series of arrests recently occurred in Syria, targeting political activists and human rights defenders. A demonstration organised by the Forum Civil Démocratique Syrien en France will take place today in Paris in order to protest against these acts.

On 24 May 2005 at 6 a.m., eight members of the Board staff of the Jamal Al-Atassi Forum for National Dialogue - Mrs Suhayr Jamal Al-Atassi, Mr Hussein Al-‘Awadat, Mrs Nahed Badawiyah, Mr Hazem Al-Nahar, Mr Yusef Al-Jihmani and Mr Jihad Massouti, Mr Muhammad Mahfoudh and Mr ‘Abdel Nasr Kalhous - have been arrested by the Political Security officers and are currently detained at the location of a Political Security Branch in Damascus. This collective arrest is connected with the previous arrest of Mr. Ali Al-Abdallah, member of the Forum, detained since 16 May 2005. Moreover, on 25 May, the Syrian police dispersed a sit-in in Damascus organised to protest against the arrest of the members of the Forum.

On 7 May, the Forum had organised a meeting gathering representatives of different political trends. At this meeting, Mr. Al-Abdallah read a statement addressed for this occasion by Sadr Al-Din Bayanouni, the exiled leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, calling for reforms, pluralism and the establishment of a modern civil society in Syria. Mr. Al-Abdallah was arrested a few days later by the Political Security forces and he has reportedly been interrogated by the Prosecutor of the Syrian Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) but no charge has been presented to him.

After the arrest of Mr. Al-Abdallah, Mrs Suhayr Jamal Al-Atassi, the Chairperson of the Forum, was summoned by the Political Security Branch in Damascus. During two hours, Mrs Al-Atassi and another member of the Forum were questioned on the responsibility of Mr. Al-Adballah's act to determine if it was an individual initiative or the result of a common decision. The Board staff assumed the entire responsibility of the decision of reading the statement, a position that conducted to their arrest.

The eight Board members of the Forum were arrested without any warrant and are detained at the Political Security Branch in Damascus without charge and without access to legal counsel. It is believed that all of them could be charged with "promoting an illegal organisation". Under the state of emergency and law 49 of 1980, the affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed and is punishable with sentences from 12 years imprisonment to the death penalty. FIDH, OMCT and CDF are particularly worried about the hypothesis that this law may be interpreted in a way that includes anyone associated with or promoting this movement, a vague formula which could lead to arbitrary judicial sentences.

FIDH, OMCT and CDF also condemn the recent arrest of a human rights defender, Mr. Muhammad Ra'doun, lawyer and president of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (AOHRS), detained since 22 May 2005 by the Political Security forces (see Urgent appeal SYR 001 / 0505 / OBS 035, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – FIDH / OMCT joint programme).

As in the case of the board members of the Forum, the charges against Mr Ra'doun are still unknown and he has been given no access to legal counsel. Mr. Ra'doun’s arrest is most likely related to recent communiqués and statements issued by AOHRS on the human rights situation in Syria.

FIDH, OMCT and CDF are deeply concerned by the continuous violations of human rights and individual liberties in Syria, in particular as regards the denial of the freedoms of expression and opinion, both guaranteed by international human rights instruments and in particular by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic in April 1969. Our organisations also deplore the non-respect of the right of peaceful assembly in violation of article 21 of the ICCPR. FIDH, OMCT and CDF reiterate their serious concerns regarding the systematic recourse by Syrian authorities to exceptional courts in order to judge civilians. Mr. Aktham Naisse, President of CDF, charged with "disseminating false information" and "opposing the objectives of the revolution" is being tried by the Supreme State Security Court. On April 24, 2005, the trial of Mr. Naisse before the SSSC was scheduled to resume and the sentencing was then adjourned to June 26, 2005. It is believed that the same jurisdiction will examine the cases of the above-mentioned reformists and human rights defender. Our organisations recall that the state of emergency that has been in effect since 1963 is not consistent with international standards on states of emergency, in particular with art. 4 of the ICCPR.

In this respect, the SSSC established as an exceptional court by decree 47 of 1968 pursuant to the state of emergency is incompetent to examine ordinary criminal cases. Moreover, rules of procedure of SSSC do not conform with internationally recognised standards of a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. It should be noted in particular that among court members are military officers; that its decisions cannot be appealed and it operates under the authority of the ruling Baath party.

FIDH, OMCT and CDF call upon the Syrian authorities:
  • to release immediately and unconditionally Mr 'Ali Al-'Abdallah, Mr. Mohammed Ra'doun, Mrs Suhayr Jamal Al-Atassi, Mr Hussein Al-‘Awadat, Mrs Nahed Badawiyah, Mr Hazem Al-Nahar, Mr Yusef Al-Jihmani and Mr Jihad Massouti, Mr Muhammad Mahfoudh and Mr ‘Abdel Nasr Kalhous and all persons arbitrarily detained in Syria;
  • to ensure that the trials concerning civilians be brought before a civil, competent, independent and impartial tribunal, and that their procedural rights be guaranteed at all times, including the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature and cause of the charge against them and the right to communicate with counsel of their own choosing;
  • to put an end to judicial harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, and to conform to 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
  • to recognise all human rights and civil society organisations in the country;
  • to act in conformity with the international human rights standards, among others the ICCPR ratified by Syria in 1969 and in particular, regarding the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association.

FIDH, OMCT and CDF call upon the European Union and its Member States:
  • to demand that Syria respects international human rights and international laws, particularly now that the EU is expected soon to sign an Association Agreement with Syria

FIDH, OMCT and CDF call upon the international community:
  • to continue expressing concern about the situation for human rights defenders and human rights organisations in Syria, and to continue supporting them.

For further information please contact:
CDF: Ghayath Naisse, Representative in France, Tel : +33 6 08 42 95 63.
FIDH: Gaël Grilhot, Press Officer, Tel: +33 1 43 55 25 18.
OMCT: Eric Sottas, Director, Tel: +41 22 809 49 39.
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