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Journalists and political opponents speak from prison

Ali Abdullah
Ali Abdullah

AP/Zeina Karam

Political prisoners in Syria are suffering greatly, says the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which released a letter signed by prisoners of conscience in Central Damascus Prison in late June. Ahead of the high profile visit of the French Foreign Minister to Syria this past week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also reported on poor conditions in prison.

In their letter, the political prisoners, including many bloggers and journalists, said they are under a constant level of surveillance, with security guards eavesdropping on the conversations they have with family members and lawyers.

The prisoners say they are often forced to sleep on the ground as there are only enough beds for half of them. They are also subject to frequent raids and can be thrown in solitary confinement for 10 days for possessing something as benign as a spoon.

A number of prisoners are suffering from poor health and require medical attention, including lawyer, activist and writer Ali Al-Abdullah. Former parliamentarian Riad Seif and Dr. Kamal Labwani are reportedly suffering from prostrate cancer, which is not being treated.
-There has been no news of Ali Al-Abdallah's son Omar, who has also been detained since 2006, along with six other students, for taking part in an online discussion group on democracy. Omar's brother, Mohammad Al-Abdallah, questioned in a recent blog post whether his brother and the other students are still alive since riots in Sednaya prison in July 2008: http://raye7wmishraj3.wordpress.com

Decrying the "very bad" situation for the political activists and members of the media in Syria, RSF asked that French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner pressure Syria to respect human rights, including the right to free expression and freedom of the press, during his visit on 11 and 12 July.No mention of human rights was made in news reports about the visit.

Five bloggers remain detained in Syria and several magazines, including "Al-Shababik", "Al-Mal" and "Syria Today", were recently banned, RSF reports. A draconian 2001 press law, meanwhile, allows the Syrian prime minister to decide who can and cannot work as a journalist in the country and permits journalists to be jailed for "attacking the state's prestige or dignity, national unity and the morale of the armed forces."

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