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Outspoken former MP among those arrested during wave of "blatant repression of any independent expression," reports Freedom House

(Freedom House/IFEX) - The following is a 28 January 2008 Freedom House press release:

Syrian Activists under Siege

January 28, 2008 - In a continuing effort to stifle independent voices, the Syrian government today arrested one of Syria's leading opposition figures and charged ten detained dissidents with undermining the state.

Riyad Seif, a former member of parliament and an outspoken critic of the government, was arrested today by state security officers. Mr. Seif is one of Syria's best known dissidents and spent five years in jail for his political views. The ten additional reformers facing trial today are all leaders of a major opposition group, the Damascus Declaration National Council, and include the president of the group as well as members of the secretariat.

"Freedom House calls on the Syrian government to immediately release these activists," said Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House. "At the very least, President Assad's government should act according to the international treaties it is a party to, by holding fair trials for these activists and guaranteeing that none of the detainees is tortured or mistreated."

Mr. Calingaert added, "The Syrian government is trying to conjure up some legal fiction to mask its blatant repression of any independent expression."

The Damascus Declaration National Council is a recently-formed broad coalition of pro-democracy political forces. The organization includes a wide range of political factions, including leftists, liberals, conservatives, moderate Islamists, and a variety of ethnic groups. Its creation represents the first time reformers from such a broad variety of political leanings have come together for the common cause of promoting democratic reform.

Those members of the Damascus Declaration National Council placed on trial today included the president of the council, Dr. Fida'al-Hawrani; secretaries Dr. Ahmad Ta'ma and Akram al-Bunni; secretariat members Ali al-Abdallah, Walid al-Bunni, Dr. Yasir al-Iti and Jabr al-Shufi; and council members Muhammed Haji Darwish, Marwan al-Ush and Fayiz Sarah.

Syria is ranked as Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties.

For more information on Syria, visit:

Freedom in the World 2007: Syria
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2007&country=7282
Freedom of the Press 2007: Syria
http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&country=7282&year=2007

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Syria since 1972.

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