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Court rejects writer's request for release on completing three quarters of sentence

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders "strongly condemns" a Damascus criminal court's decision on 20 August 2008 to reject a request for the release of imprisoned writer and journalist Michel Kilo although he has served three-quarters of a three-year sentence and therefore qualifies for early release under Syrian law.

"The court insisted on keeping Kilo in prison even though he meets all the criteria for early release," Reporters Without Borders said. "This decision came just a few days after diplomatic relations were restored between Syria and Lebanon. Yet Kilo was arrested in May 2006 precisely for advocating better relations between the two neighbours. It makes his continuing detention even more arbitrary."

Kilo's lawyers said he qualified for early release because of good behaviour and the fact that he has already spent 830 days in prison, more than three quarters of his sentence. They said they would resubmit the request.

Now aged 68 and a leading figure in the struggle for democracy in Syria, Kilo was arrested on 14 May 2006 after signing the "Beirut-Damascus, Damascus-Beirut" appeal, a joint declaration issued by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals calling for a radical overhaul of relations between the two countries.

It was condemned by the Syrian authorities, who arrested Kilo and other prominent signatories such as lawyer Awar El-Bunni and convicted them of "undermining national sentiment". Kilo was sentenced to three years in prison. Bunni got five years.

Reporters Without Borders established a system of sponsorship 18 years ago in which international media are encouraged to adopt imprisoned journalists. More than 200 news organisations, journalists' associations, press clubs and other entities throughout the world are currently supporting journalists by regularly calling on the authorities to release them and by publicising their cases.

Kilo has been adopted by Le Pèlerin (France), the 06 Mediterranean Press Club (France), various Spanish forums, the Almería Press Association (Spain) and the Calafell City Hall (Spain).

Sign the petition for Michel Kilo's release: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=19758

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