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Human rights activist sentenced to three years in prison on vague and spurious charges

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington - June 24, 2010 - Yesterday's sentencing of lawyer and human rights activist Muhannad Al Hassani to three years in prison on vague and spurious charges, and the continued imprisonment of democracy activist Ali Al Abdallah, are reflective of the Syrian government's continued practice of harassing and imprisoning human rights and democracy activists, according to Freedom House.

Al Hassani, founder of the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, was arrested in July 2009 and charged with "spreading false information that affects the unity of the nation" and "weakening national morale." The charges, which come after years of harassment by the Syrian government, were a result of his efforts to call public attention to the unfair legal treatment of other political prisoners in Syria. Authorities also continue to hold democracy activist and member of the Damascus Declaration opposition group, Ali Al Abdallah, who completed a three-year prison term on June 17, but whose release was denied due to material written while he was in prison.

"The Syrian government's repeated persecution of human rights defenders and proponents of democratic reform is but one example of why Syria remains on Freedom House's list of the 'Worst of the Worst' human rights abusers," said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. "Freedom House demands the release of these prisoners without harm and calls on the Syrian government to end the emergency law that precipitates this harassment."

The state of emergency, in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge. Many of the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 political prisoners in Syria have never been tried. Syria is one of only nine countries that receive the lowest possible rankings for both political rights and civil liberties in the 2010 edition of Freedom House's annual survey Freedom of the World.

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