Freedom House Demands Release of Syrian Dissidents
Freedom House urges the international community to call on Syria to immediately release 12 pro-democracy dissidents sentenced Wednesday to two and a half years in prison. The activists are members of the Damascus Declaration, a broad coalition of opposition figures that is pressing for peaceful democratic change in Syria.
"Two and half years in prison is quite a harsh sentence for a group of people who simply gathered together to discuss peaceful and gradual political change," said Daniel Calingaert, Freedom House deputy programs director. "The sentence illustrates how the government of President Bashar al-Assad—one of the world's most repressive regimes—routinely subjugates the human rights of its citizens to the will of a few corrupt elites."
The jailed dissidents include Damascus Declaration President Fida al-Hurani, former parliament member Riyadh Seif and author Ali al-Abdullah. The activists were arrested following their organization's first conference in December 2007. They were charged with "spreading false information" and "belonging to a secret organization promoting sectarian strife," charges that they deny.
Syria's government heavily restricts basic freedoms such as expression, association and assembly through a variety of laws including the 1963 state of emergency, which the Damascus Declaration has urged the government to suspend. Syrian journalists regularly face intimidation, stop press orders and arrests, and access to the Internet is permitted only through state-run servers. All nongovernmental organizations must register with the government, which generally denies registration to reformist or human rights groups and unlicensed groups are frequently jailed for publicizing state abuses. Public demonstrations are illegal without official permission and groups of five or more people are forbidden from discussing political or economic topics.
Syria is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Syria since 1972.
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