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Detained cyber-dissident charged, faces up to 15 years in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the charges of "spreading mendacious information aimed at weakening national sentiment," seeking to "stir up sectarian strife" and "attacking the president" that have been brought against Habib Saleh, a cyber-dissident who was arrested without explanation in a market in his home town of Tartus on 6 May 2008.

The charges carry sentences ranging from two to 15 years in prison. No date has so far been set for his trial.

"This is the third time in seven years that Saleh is being prosecuted because of the articles he writes," Reporters Without Borders said. "Nonetheless, all he has done is call for governmental reform, democracy and freedom of opinion. The extravagant and disproportionate nature of the charges highlights the extent of the government's inability to tolerate criticism and the injustice of his arrest."

Saleh is charged under Articles 285 to 297 of the criminal code, which carry sentences of two to 15 years in prison and under Articles 374 and 377, which carry a maximum of two years in prison.

When he appeared before an investigating judge in Damascus on 4 August, the charges mentioned were "weakening national sentiment" and "inciting civil and sectarian war" under Articles 285 and 289. He confirmed that he wrote the articles cited by the judge.

Aged 61, Saleh writes regularly for Elaph.com ( http://www.elaph.com ), a website that is censored in Syria because of its outspoken style of news reporting. Arrested and sentenced to three years in prison during the "Damascus Spring" in 2002, he was released on 9 September 2004.

Arrested again on 29 May 2005, he was sentenced on 15 August 2006 to three years in prison for "spreading mendacious information." He was finally released on 12 September 2007 on completing three-quarters of the sentence.

Syria is the Arab world's most repressive country towards those posting information online, although the Syrian constitution guarantees "the right to freely express one's opinions by spoken word, in writing or in any other medium."

Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of Saleh and the three other cyber-dissidents detained in Syria: Firas Saad, Tariq Biassi and Kareem Arabji.

Updates the Saleh case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94437

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