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Growing crackdown on journalists and government critics

(RSF/IFEX) - The Syrian authorities continue to crack down on journalists and human rights activists in the run-up to the 10th anniversary of Bashar Al-Assad's installation as president, despite government claims of greater freedoms in the past 10 years.

Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate and unconditional release of journalists Ali Abdallah and Kamal Sheikhou ben Hussein, and the withdrawal of the charges against Souhayla Ismail and Bassem Ali.

The author of many articles on the All4Syria website, Kamal Sheikhou was arrested on 25 June 2010 as he tried to enter Lebanon with his brother's passport. He was not using his own passport because he has been banned from leaving the country.

He was first arrested on 17 February 2007 and was placed in solitary confinement before being released a week later. No grounds were given for that arrest, which seems to have been prompted by his human rights activism.

A member of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria, he is currently a third-year student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Damascus.

Souhayla Ismail and Bassem Ali have been charged with "resisting the socialist order" in connection with two reports published five years ago about alleged corruption and embezzlement by the head of Al-Asmida, a state-owned fertilizer company in the north of the country. They appeared before a court in Homs for the second time in 10 days on 13 April.

They are facing these charges nearly four years after the regime's conversion to a capitalist market economy and its integration into international trade mechanisms, all of which was accompanied by official rhetoric about democratisation and greater respect for political rights. But the constitution has not been changed and Article 1/15 of the Law on Economic Sanctions, allowing for the prosecution of those who disagree with the socialist system, is still in force.

Writer and journalist Ali Abdallah, who should have been released on 16 June on completing a 30-month jail sentence, has been kept in detention because of an article criticising an aspect of Iran's religious system that he wrote from his cell and posted online.

He was taken before a state security court on 19 April and is charged with "disseminating false information with the aim of harming the state." The case is particularly worrying as it shows that it is dangerous for journalists to criticise not only the government but also its allies.

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