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Syrian political prisoner re-arrested on release

Filed on June 18, 2010

A Syrian military court has charged a prominent political prisoner with weakening national morale after he was due to be freed after serving a 2-1/2 year sentence for the same offence, his lawyer said.

Ali al-Abdallah, a writer, was released from Adra prison on the northern edge of the Syrian capital on Wednesday.

He was returned to Adra on Thursday after a court charged him with writing an article three months ago criticising Syria’s ties with Iran, Khalil Maatouk told Reuters.

“I was waiting for him, but he was taken back to prison,” Maatouk said.

“Everything is possible,” Maatouk said when asked if Abdallah could be sentenced to another lengthy term.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent organisation, said Abdallah’s arrest was “arbitrary”.

Abdallah was among 12 people arrested during 2007 and jailed after they tried to revive the Damascus Declaration, a rights movement named after a document signed in 2005 by opposition figures.

They were charged with weakening national morale, an accusation used regularly by the government against its opponents.

Syrian lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani was arrested last year and charged with weakening national morale after campaigning all his professional life against the charge, which he called “medieval”. Hassani is due to be sentenced on June 23.

The Damascus Declaration demanded that bans on freedom of speech and assembly be lifted, and emergency law abolished. This has governed Syria since 1963 when the ruling Baath Party took power, banning any opposition.

Five of Abdullah’s fellow prisoners were released this month after completing their 2-1/2 year sentences, including Fida al-Horani, a physician and daughter of the late Akram al-Horani, a crucial figure behind the rise of the Baath.

The government has intensified a campaign of arrests of political opponents over the last two years. Despite this, it has enjoyed international rehabilitation after years in isolation due to disputes with the West over Syria’s role in Lebanon and Iraq, and its support for militant groups.

The best-known opposition figure remaining in jail is former parliamentarian Riad Seif, who has cancer.

Western leaders have appealed to the Syrian government to release him, but it has become clear that Seif will not be released before his 2-1/2 year sentence ends in July.





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