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Writers released under amnesty

(WiPC/IFEX) - 27 July 2011 - The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International welcomes the release of several dissident writers as part of a presidential amnesty announced on 2 June 2011. Protestors had called for the release of all political prisoners in Syria, as well as other political reforms. Those released include writer, journalist and activist 'Ali al-Abdullah, lawyer and writer Muhannad al-Hassani, novelist Raghdah Sa'id Hassan (f), poet and lawyer Mustafa Ismail, and writers Husam 'Ali Mulhim and Tarek Al-Gorani.

PEN is now able to confirm that the following people have been included in the presidential amnesty announced on 2 June 2011:

Freelance journalist and activist 'Ali al-Abdullah was arrested on 3 January 2008 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for 'publishing false information with the aim of harming the state', 'membership of a secret organisation designed to destabilise the state' and 'inciting ethnic and racial hatred' for his peaceful dissident activities and writings. 'Ali Al-Abdullah was due to be released on 17 June 2010 after serving his sentence, but remained detained after new charges were brought against him on 18 June 2010 for an article he wrote whilst in prison. He was sentenced on 7 February 2011 to three years in prison, reduced to one and a half years on appeal by a military court in Damascus, for "disseminating false information with the aim of harming the state". He was released on 4 June 2011 under a presidential amnesty. 'Ali al-Abdullah remains under threat, and was re-arrested on 15 July 2011 for writing another critical article, though he was later released without charge. He has recently undergone heart surgery and is said to be in frail health.

Novelist Raghdah Sa'id Hassan (f) was arrested on 10 February 2010 after writing her first unpublished novel. She was held without charge until her release on 2 June 2011.

Muhannad al-Hassani: Lawyer and writer. Co-founder of the Syrian Human Rights Organisation (Sawasiyah). Arrested on 28 July 2009 and sentenced to three years in prison by the Damascus Criminal Court on charges of "weakening the national sentiment" and "spreading false news". These charges are commonly used against government critics. Released on 4 June 2011 as part of a presidential amnesty.

Mustafa Ismail: Well known poet, contributor to various Arabic language websites and lawyer. Reportedly arrested on 12 December 2009 for publishing critical articles on the treatment of Kurds in Syria and in Turkey. Held in Central Aleppo Prison until his release on 4 June 2011.

Husam 'Ali Mulhim and Tarek Al-Gorani: Dissident writer and poet, and writer and blogger respectively. Mulhim and Al-Gorani were arrested in early 2006 for developing a youth discussion group and publishing pro-democracy articles on the internet. They were held in Sednaya military prison, near Damascus, until their release on 4 June 2011.

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