Syria - Outrage over 36-month prison sentences passed on three journalists



    MONTREAL, Oct. 29 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is deeply
outraged by the sentences of two and a half years in prison which a Damascus
court passed today on three Syrian journalists and nine other pro-democracy
activists - all members of the Damascus Declaration National Council.
    The press freedom organisation calls on the international community,
including the European Union, whose presidency is currently held by France, to
take a greater interest in the fate of prisoners of conscience in Syria.
    "These disgraceful sentences were to be expected, given Syria's appalling
human rights record, but they are nonetheless shocking,"Reporters Without
Borders said. "The international community cannot continue treating this
regime with kid gloves if it persecutes its journalists and civil society in
such a brutal manner. These dissidents, who have been gagged by a subservient
judicial system, need the support of all those who are committed to freedom of
opinion and expression."
    The twelve Damascus Declaration members sentenced today were Fida'a
Al-Horani (a doctor), Ali Abdallah (a journalist), Akram Al-Bunni (a
journalist), Riyad Seif (an industrialist and former parliamentarian), Fayez
Sara (a journalist), Ahmad Taama (a doctor), Jabr Al-Shufi (a civil servant),
Walid Al-Bunni (a doctor), Yasser Al-Iti (a doctor), Mohammed Hajji Darwish (a
civil servant), Marwan Al-Aach (an engineer) and Tala Abu-Dan (a painter and
sculptor).
    After the president of the Damascus court of assizes announced the
sentences, the 12 defendants joined hands and shouted pro-democracy slogans.
Their lawyers have 30 days to file appeals. Khalil Maatouk, a member of their
legal defence team, condemned what he called a "political trial."
    Signed in October 2005 by opposition representatives and leading members
of civil society, the Damascus Declaration is a call for change based on
political freedom, respect for ethnic and religious minorities, separation of
powers and free expression.
    More than 160 members of the Damascus Declaration National Council met in
the Syrian capital on 1 December 2007 to elect a secretariat and to reaffirm
their commitment to democratic reform at the end of a "peaceful and
progressive process."
    Around 40 of its members were arrested in the course of the following
five or six months, and 12 of them - the 12 sentenced today - were eventually
charged with 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 tension.
    Syria is now the Middle East's second largest prison for the media, after
Iran, with a total four journalists and five cyber-dissidents currently
detained. It was ranked 159th out of 173 countries in the world press freedom
index which Reporters Without Borders issued on 22 October.
    To assist news media who are interested, Reporters Without Borders has
prepared a short report on the Damascus Declaration detainees with a
caricature by Algerian cartoonist Ali Dilem
(http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29121).




For further information:

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

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