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REGIONS:

GROWING CRACKDOWN ON FREE EXPRESSION

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) are calling attention to an escalating crackdown on human rights activists in Syria, where at least 14 individuals have been arrested and detained in the past month for advocating democratic reform.

Eight of the activists were detained without charge on 24 May 2005 for attending a public forum in Damascus on 7 May in which a statement written by the banned Muslim Brotherhood party was read out loud. The statement called on the Syrian government to respect human rights and initiate electoral reform.

The activists are members of the al Atassi Forum, one of the only government-sanctioned organisations in the country. They include Suhayr Jamal al Atassi, Hussein al Awadat, Nahed Badawiyah, Nazem al Nahr, Youssef al Jihmani, Mohamed Mahfoudh, Abdel Nasr Qalhouss and Jihad Massouti. All are being detained without charge and without access to lawyers.

Their arrests followed the 15 May arrest of writer Ali Abdallah, who had read the Muslim Brotherhood statement at the public forum. He is being detained without charge at Adra prison, according to Amnesty International.

Other individuals who have been detained include Nizar al Ristanawi and Mohamed Raadoun of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria (AOHR-S), Sheikh Mohamed Maashouq al Khaznawy, deputy director of the Islamic Studies Centre in Syria and a vocal supporter of the Kurdish cause, and Habib Saleh, a writer who recently posted letters on two websites that were harshly critical of the Syrian regime.

Meanwhile, Aktham Naisse, head of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights (CDF), faces charges of spreading false information and "opposing the objectives of the revolution." If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 15 years. His court case is scheduled to resume on 26 June.

EOHR says all of the human rights activists will be tried by the Syrian State Security Court (SSSC), a government-controlled tribunal whose procedures have been criticised by the UN for violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Syria is a signatory to the treaty.

Visit these links:
- EOHR: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/66988/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13932
- Amnesty International: http://tinyurl.com/99tu8
- Muslim Brotherhood Slams Ruling Baath Party: http://tinyurl.com/d6sbu
IFEX Members' Reports on Syria:
- Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/01/13/syria9812.htm
- Reporters Without Borders: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13313&Valider=OK
- International Press Institute: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Mena/syria.htm
- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://www.cpj.org/attacks04/mideast04/syria.html
- Freedom House: http://tinyurl.com/d7roe

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