Syria - Call for release of writer accused of "weakening national feeling"



    MONTREAL, Aug. 6 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders called on the
Syrian government today to release jailed online journalist Habib Saleh, who
was arrested in a market in the northwestern town of Tartous on 6 May. He
appeared in court in Damascus on 4 August accused of writing articles that
"weakened national feeling" and "incited civil and religious warfare," under
articles 285 and 289 of the criminal law.
    "We did not know where Saleh was being held after his arrest, so we are
relieved to learn he is still alive," the worldwide press freedom organisation
said. "But we strongly condemn his arrest and detention. All he has done is
exercise his right to speak up freely, but unfortunately people in Syria are
frequently thrown in prison for posting material online."
    It also called for the release of four other jailed cyber-dissidents -
Firas Saad, Tariq Biassi, Kareem Arabji and Hammam Haddad.
    Saleh admitted in court he had written the articles but denied all the
charges against him. He is also accused of "belonging to a secret
organisation" and libelling the country's president.
    Saleh, 61, is a regular contrbutor to the website Elaph.com
(www.elaph.com), which is censored in Syria because of its news coverage, and
this was his third arrest in seven years. He was given a three-year prison
sentence in 2002 during the crackdown that followed the "Damascus Spring" but
was freed in September 2004. He was again sentenced to three years on
15 August 2006 under article 286 for "putting out false news" in online
articles and was released on 12 September last year.
    Syria is the most repressive country in the Middle East towards online
journalists. Reporters Without Borders notes that the national constitution
guarantees "the right of free expression in speech, writing or any other
medium."




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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