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Twenty-six IFEX members appeal to French President Sarkozy to raise issue of jailed journalists and rights activists in Syria

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is an appeal by 26 IFEX members to the French president regarding the free expression situation in Syria:

M. Nicolas Sarkozy
President of the Republic of France
Palais de l'Elysée
55, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
75008 Paris, France

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned organisations promoting and defending freedom of expression worldwide, join the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) in expressing our extreme concern over the serious violations of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Syria.

Syrian authorities continue to arrest, prosecute, imprison, and harass journalists, cyber dissidents, human rights activists, and anyone who challenges the policies of President Bashar al-Asad, calls for democratic reforms or advocates changes in Syria's relations with Lebanon.

Ahead of your meeting with President Bashar al-Asad on 3 and 4 September 2008, we would like to draw your attention to the numerous writers, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and activists who have been jailed for expressing themselves peacefully, and for their participation in the pro-democracy movement.

We would like to note specifically the cases of imprisoned writer and journalist Michel Kilo, and outspoken human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni. On 20 August, a Damascus criminal court judge rejected a request for the release of Kilo although he has served three-quarters of a three-year sentence and therefore qualifies for early release under Syrian law. In April 2007, Al-Bunni was sentenced to five years in prison. Kilo and al-Bunni, along with many other activists have been persecuted for signing declarations calling for reform.

In addition, we are concerned about the continued detention of journalist Ali al-Abdallah and his son Omar Ali al-Abdallah, who is serving a five-year sentence as part of a group of seven young bloggers, all of whom received five to seven years in jail simply for blogging. The others are Tarek Ghorani, Maher Ibrahim Isbir, Diab Sirieyeh, Husam Ali Mulhim, Ayham Saqr and Alam Fakhour.

Reports from human rights groups repeatedly detail unwarranted arrests, arbitrary detentions, instances of ill-treatment and torture, denials of access to legal representation, politically motivated charges and sham trials facing those who express critical and dissident views.

Other journalists and writers who have faced persecution include journalist and writer Fayez Sarah, writer Akram al-Bunni, blogger Tarek Bayasi, blogger Karim Arbaji, political writer Firas Saad and political writer Habib Saleh.

As the President of the French Republic and current President of the European Council, we call on Your Excellency to address the issue of ongoing human rights violations in Syria with President Bashar al-Asad and to urge him to ensure the immediate release from prison of those who only exercised their rights to freedom of expression and association.

With the utmost respect, Your Excellency, we remain yours sincerely,

Arab Archives Institute (AAI), Jordan
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network, International (CRNI)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), Greece
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Mizzima News, India/Burma
Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), Tunisia
Paraguayan Union of Journalists (SPP), Paraguay
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

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