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Lawyer released after being held for 12 days for criticising government on his website

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders reiterates its condemnation of the government's behaviour towards certain opposition websites after lawyer and website editor Abdallah Souleiman Ali was detained for 12 days for "persisting in publishing legal and political articles criticising the role of the government." It was the second time he has been targeted since March 2008.

"His arrest was an unacceptable but unfortunately common intimidating method," the press freedom organisation said. "The owners of opposition websites are constantly harassed by the Syrian authorities and are often held incommunicado although the constitution guarantees free expression. We urge the government to put a stop to its harassment of Souleiman."

Arrested on 30 July, Souleiman was held for 12 days at the state security department in Damascus because of articles that criticised Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari and claimed that he headed a "strategic operations" government.

Souleiman's website is called Al Nazaha ( ), which means "Integrity". Created on 8 August 2005, it focuses mainly on legal and political issues and defends the independence of the judicial system. The company that hosts the site rendered it inaccessible in November 2006 after getting a visit from the Damascus state security department. A hacker attack erased all of the site's content on 23 June 2007.

Access to the site was blocked in October 2007 as a result of a Damascus court decision. Souleiman sued the telecommunications ministry the following month to get the decision rescinded. The complaint was eventually withdrawn.

Since March, the Al Nazaha site has been accessible at a new address: but Souleiman has been repeatedly interrogated and threatened in an attempt to force him to close his site.

The Syrian Mirror ( ) and Syria Life ( ) websites were recently the target of similar threats. An independent news website, Syrian Mirror was blocked on 18 April 2006 after operating for just over three years. Syria Life was blocked on 13 February 2008.

Syria is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Internet Enemies". At least five cyber-dissidents are currently in jail in Syria for expressing their views online, which makes it the Middle East's most repressive country as regards Internet users.

Article 38 of the constitution nonetheless says: "Each citizen has the right to express their views freely to everyone, in writing or by any other means of communication (. . .) The state guarantees freedom of expression, printing and publication in accordance with the republic's laws."

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