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Journalist who signed Damascus Declaration held incommunicado

(RSF/IFEX) - Writer and journalist Fayez Sara was reportedly arrested on 3 January 2008 after responding to a summons from the state security services. His arrest, which has not yet been confirmed by the authorities, would bring the number of Damascus Declaration signatories currently detained to eight.

"The Syrian government continues to crack down on its political opponents and all those who dare to question the Baath party's monopoly of power," Reporters Without Borders said. "The state of emergency in force since 1963 serves political rather than security needs. The authorities have been silencing the opposition without regard for the law for more than 40 years."

A contributor to several newspapers including the Lebanese daily "Assafir" and the pan-Arab daily "Al-Hayat", Sara went to the state security agency in Damascus on the morning of 3 January in response to a summons. His wife told Reporters Without Borders she believes he was arrested.

Sara and fellow journalist Ali Abdallah attended a meeting on 1 December 2007 of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration, formed by secular opposition parties calling for "radical democratic change in Syria." Abdallah was arrested on 17 December. In all, some 40 activists were arrested and seven of them, including executive bureau president Fida'a Al-Horani and secretary Akram Al-Bonni, are still being held.

The Damascus Declaration, calling for political reforms and better relations with Lebanon, was issued in October 2005. It is backed by many members of banned political parties.

Syria was ranked 154th out of 169 countries in the world press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders issued in October.

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