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Twenty-three IFEX members and other organisations call for release of prisoners of opinion

(EOHR/IFEX) - The following is a joint action by 23 IFEX members and other organisations:

Call for release of prisoners of opinion in Syria

President Bashar al-Assad
Office of the President
Presidential Palace Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid St.
Damascus, Syria
Fax: + 963 11 332 3410

Dear President Bashar al-Assad,

We, the undersigned organisations dedicated to freedom of expression, call upon the Syrian government to release Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights activist and lawyer, journalist Michel Kilo, political activist Kamal al-Labwani, and all those who are imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

On 24 April 2007, Bunni was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on the charge of "spreading false or exaggerated news that weaken the spirit of the nation." He has recently complained about authorities confiscating his notebook and some of his personal belongings. Bunni was arrested and taken to 'Adra Prison on 17 May 2006 during a wave of arrests of people who had signed the "Beirut-Damascus, Damascus-Beirut Declaration" - a joint statement advocating the need to "respect and consolidate the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and of Syria as part of institutionalised and transparent relations." This document was signed by more than 300 leading figures from both countries.

We are also concerned about the situation of prominent journalist Michel Kilo, who signed the same statement and was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "weakening national sentiment," "spreading false information" and inciting "religious and racial dissension." Kilo has been detained since 14 May 2006. Since his arrest, Kilo has submitted several requests for his provisional release but all have been refused.

In a separate case, Kamal al-Labwani, a 50-year-old physician and head of a pro-democracy group, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment on charges of contacting a foreign country and "encouraging attacks against Syria." He was arrested in November 2005 after returning from a visit to the United States, where he met with White House officials. The sentence against Kamal Labwani is considered to be the harshest against a dissident since Bashar al-Assad took over from his late father in 2000.

In addition, activist and former parliament member Riad Seif was prevented from traveling abroad to receive medical treatment. Seif is suffering from prostate cancer and has submitted an official travel request, as he has been banned from traveling since his release from jail in February 2006. On 12 August, State Security officials called Seif to inform him that the government had denied his request to travel. We add our voices to Syrian organisations that urge your government, on humanitarian grounds and in recognition of Syria's obligations under international human rights law, to allow Seif to travel abroad in order to receive the medical treatment he urgently requires, and to return to Syria without penalty.

Accordingly, the undersigned organisations, who are members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), urge President Bashar Al-Assad to release all prisoners of conscience who have been detained for peacefully expressing themselves, to work on strengthening freedom of expression and to put an end to all repressive practices against journalists and activists, including harassment, torture and arbitrary detention, as an enactment of Syria's international and constitutional obligations.

Article 38 of Syria's Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to "freely and openly express his views in words, in writing, and through all other means of expression" and to "participate in supervision and constructive criticism in a manner that safeguards the soundness of the domestic and nationalist structure and strengthens the socialist system." As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Syria has an international obligation to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.


Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Cairo
Arab Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), Cairo
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Cairo
Human Rights Watch
Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN), International
Media Watch, Dhaka
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Moscow
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Windhoek
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Athens
Freedom House, New York
Norwegian PEN, Oslo
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Lagos
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), Reston
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Toronto
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), Bogotá
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels
Free Media Movement (FMM), Colombo
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Kathmandu
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Jakarta
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Redfern
Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), Tunis
Independent Journalism Center-Moldova, Chisinau
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Manama (interim IFEX member)
Maharat Foundation, Beirut
Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie (CNLT), Tunis

Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

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