Political Prisoners in Syria: An Urgent Crisis Now!

25.3.11

On March 16, around 50 demonstrators — including human rights activists, former political prisoners and the families of curent political prisoners — were arrested in Damascus after a non-violent demonstration in which, as part of a group of about 150 protestors in total (a significant gathering in Syria, where all political dissent is illegal), they called for the release of 21 political prisoners.

Eight of these demonstrators were freed, but 32 were subsequently charged with “attacking the reputation of the state, provoking racism and sectarianism and damaging relations between Syrians,” and the whereabouts of ten others have not been accounted for.

As a result, I thought it might be useful to make available some information about these 71 men and women, many of whom are well-known human rights activists in Syria, to raise awarness not only of their plight, but also that of the estimated 4,500 political prisoners, or “prisoners of conscience” in Syria.

These prisoners include Kurds, religious leaders, trade unionists and students, and their detention, in such large numbers, reveals how, for nearly 50 years, the Ba’athist regime in Syria has suppressed all dissent through emergency laws passed in 1963, which essentially created a vast police state, in which an unaccountable security court hands down punitive sentences on charges that seem to have been taken from the pages of George Orwell’s 1984, and frequently condemns critics of the regime to torture and abuse in Syria’s many notorious torture prisons.

My findings are published below, although I freely admit that, despite my best attempts at research, there are gaps in my knowledge, and I invite anyone with more detailed information to contact me so I can make it more comprehensive.

The list of those detained on March 16 came from three sources — a Facebook page and the website of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), published immediately after the arrests, and the website of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), after the 32 protestors were charged. Also useful was the blogger Zeinobia, who is well worth following. For the 21 political prisoners on whose behalf the protest on March 16 was called, the only useful list I found was here (and I could only confirm 20 names, rather than 21).

At the end of this article, I also provide some names and stories from another report, by Amnesty International, relating to dozens more prisoners seized by the Syrian security services between March 8 and 23, in various towns ands cties throughout Syria.

The 20 political prisoners whose release was called for on March 16, 2011

1. Kamal al-Labwani
A Kurdish doctor and artist, and the founder of the Democratic Liberal Gathering, Kamal al-Labwani is considered one of the most prominent members of the Syrian opposition movement, but is imprisoned in Adra prison, near Damascus, serving a 15-year prison sentence. On May 10, 2007, he was given a 12-year sentence for “scheming with a foreign country, or communicating with one with the aim of causing it to attack Syria,” following visits to Europe and the USA in 2005 “where he met human rights organisations and government officials and called for peaceful democratic reform in Syria,” and on April 23, 2008, as Amnesty International explained, the First Military Court in Damascus found him guilty of “broadcasting false or exaggerated news which would affect the morale of the country,” and added another three years’ imprisonment to the 12-year term he was already serving. Alarmingly, the new charge “was based on the testimony of prisoners in the same cell, who claimed he had criticised the authorities when he returned to his cell from a trial hearing in May 2007.” In March 2009, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed al-Labwani’s imprisonment to be arbitrary, and he is currently on a hunger strike.

2. Ali al-Abdallah
On March 13, 2011, a military court sentenced al-Abdallah, a human rights activist,  to 18 months in prison, based on allegations that he made critical comments against Iran, thereby “harming Syria’s relations with a foreign country.” An outspoken member of the “Damascus Declaration” group, al-Abdallah is no stranger to prison, having previously served a 30-month sentence for his criticisms of the Syrian government in the group’s 2005 declaration, signed by around 300 Syrian and Lebanese activists, which called for Syria’s transition to a democratic nation and improved relations with Lebanon, including complying with UN resolutions by demarcating the border, setting up an embassy in Beirut and recognizing Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. Other members of the group to be imprisoned include former parliamentarian Riyad Sayf, arrested in January 2008, and writer and activist Michel Kilo, who was arrested after signing the group’s “Damascus Declaration,” and sentenced to a prison term of three years for “speaking false news, weakening national feeling and inciting sectarian sentiments.”

3. Mahmoud Barish
A Kurd, he faces a trial for criticizing government corruption, and is currently on a hunger strike in Adra prison.

4. Muhannad al-Hassani
On July 28, 2009, State Security detained Muhannad al-Hassani (aka al-Hasani), the Kurdish president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization (Swasiah), and two days later an investigating judge charged him with “weakening national sentiment” and “spreading false or exaggerated information” in connection with his monitoring of the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), the exceptional court, with almost no procedural guarantees, that is responsible for trying and sentencing political prisoners. On November 10, 2009, the Syrian Bar Association issued a decision to permanently disbar him, and on June 23 2010, the SSSC gave him a three-year sentence. He is currently on a hunger strike in Adra prison.

5. Hassan Saleh
A senior member of the Kurdish Yekiti Party in Syria, Saleh was arrested on December 26, 2009 with two other senior party members, Ma’rouf Mulla Ahmed and Muhammad Ahmed Mustafa, and all three were charged with “aiming at separating part of the Syrian lands” and “joining an international political or social organization,” apparently after calling for the Kurdish areas of Syria to be granted autonomy during their party’s conference on December 3, 2009. They were held incommunicado for 14 months until February 2011, when they received their first and only family visit, and they are curently boycotting their ongoing trials, in part because they are not allowed access to their legal counsel.

6. Nizar Ristnawi
A member of the Committee to Defend Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights in Syria and a founding member of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria, Nizar Ristnawi was arrested in Hamah city on April 18, 2005, and held in incommunicado detention, without contact with the outside world including his family and lawyers, for four months. He was allegedly ill-treated during this period. In November 2005 he was officially charged and brought to trial before the Supreme State Security Court, and on November 18, 2006, was sentenced to four years in prison for “spreading false news that could weaken the spirit of the nation” and “insulting the President of the Republic.” In March 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention to be arbitrary.

7. Tohama Maarouf
An artist, cyberactivist and mother of two children, she is currently on a hunger strike in Adra prison, where she is serving a one-year sentence, in protest at the “inhuman conditions” in which she is held.

8. Anwar Bunni
A human rights lawyer and activist, Bunni was arrested in May 2006 along with ten others, including Michel Kilo, after signing the “Damascus Declaration.” In April 2007, he was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine for “weakening the morale of the nation.”

9. Maher Asper
One of seven young men (between 25 and 34 years of age), who were detained between January and March 2006 after developing a youth discussion group and publishing certain articles online that were critical of the Syrian authorities, Asper (also identified as Maher Ibrahim) and Tarek Ghorani (see below) were given seven-year sentences for “taking action or making a written statement that could endanger the State or harm its relationship with a foreign country” after what Amnesty International described as “an unfair trial.” The other five men — Husam Ali Mulhim, Ayham Saqr, Alam Fakhour, Omar Ali al-Abdullah and Diab Sirieyeh –received five years each, even though all seven defendants denied the charges and stated that the “confessions” used in the trial had been extracted under torture. They are held in Saydnaya Military Prison, near Damascus, where conditions are harsh.

10. Raghda Hassan
On February 10, 2010, Syrian activist and former political prisoner Raghda Hassan (aka al-Hassan) was arrested as she was heading to Lebanon. The Syrian security services later raided her house in the city of Tartous, and confiscated her laptop and the draft  of an unpublished novel that she wrote about her life in Syrian prisons. Hassan is married to a Palestinian and has two children. She was in prison from 1993 to 1995 on charges of belonging to the Communist Party in Syria.

11. Mesh’al al-Tammo
A spokesperson for the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, he was given a three-and-a-half year sentence on May 11, 2009 for “weakening national sentiments” and “broadcasting false information.” He is currently on a hunger strike in Adra prison.

12. Habib al-Saleh
A Kurd, he is currently on a hunger strike in Adra prison.

13. Asaad Hilal
A 61-year-old bookshop owner from Saraqeb in the northwestern Syrian province of Idleb, Hilal was imprisoned in 1980 because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. On January 2 this year, he was taken into custody in Idleb after repeated requests by military intelligence, which had apparently been investigating his fundraising activities, although his supporters stated that he had been “raising money for distribution to the needy.”

14. Tarek Ghorani
Like Maher Asper above, Ghorani is one of seven young men (between 25 and 34 years of age), who were detained between January and March 2006 after developing a youth discussion group and publishing certain articles online that were critical of the Syrian authorities, Asper (also identified as Maher Ibrahim) and Tarek Ghorani were given seven year sentences for “taking action or making a written statement that could endanger the State or harm its relationship with a foreign country” after what Amnesty International described as “an unfair trial.”

15. Khaled Massry

16. Osama Haj Sleiman

17. Adan Zeitoun

18. Khalaf Mohamad Hussein

19. Ahmad Mohamed Bakir

20. Ammar Talawi

The 50 political prisoners held as a result of the protest on March 16

The first eight were released on the actual day of the protest, and 32 of the remaining 42 were charged the day after. There has, as yet, been no mention whatsoever about the whereabouts of the other ten — including a 10-year old boy — whose arrests or abductions were also noted on the day of the protest.

(i) The eight prisoners released

1. Mazen Darwish
Human rights activist, and Director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

2. Tayeb Tizini
69 years old, Tizini is a celebrated author and Professor of Politics at Damascus University

3. Hassiba Abdel-Rahman
Former prisoner of conscience, jailed in 1979, 1986 and 1992 for having belonged to the “Labor Party of Syria” and for meeting members of Amnesty International

4. Yassin al-Labwani
A relative of Kamal al-Labwani (also see below)

5. Maimouna Alammar

6. Amer Daoud (aka Ammar Dawood)
The husband of Raghda Hassan (see 10, above)

7. Kaka Daoud (aka Ricardo Dawood)
The 13-year old son of Amer Daoud/Ammar Dawood and Raghda Hassan

8. Esmail al-Khateb (aka Ismail Khatib)

(ii) The 32 prisoners charged

1. ‎Omar al-Labwani
Son of prisoner of conscience Kamal al-Labwani (see 1, above)
UPDATE March 27: Human rights activist Wissam Tarif (see 10, below) has stated that all 32 are relatives of existing prisoners, and that they all embarked on a hunger strike in solidarity with their relatives on March 18. On March 27, he stated that a judge had granted him bail and he would be released.

2. Riba al-Labwani
Also a relative of Kamal al-Labwani
UPDATE March 27: Wissam Tarif reported that a judge ordered her release on bail, and that of Laila al-Labwani and her daughter Siba Hassan, plus Sereen Khouri, Wafa al-Lahham and Nesrin/Nasreen al-Housien on March 23 (see 3, 5, 6, 21 and 30, below)

3. Laila al-Labwani
Also a relative of Kamal al-Labwani
UPDATE March 27: See 2, above

4. Ammar al-Labwani
Also a relative of Kamal al-Labwani

5. Siba Hafiz Hassan
Daughter of Laila al-Labwani
UPDATE March 27: See 2, above

6. Sereen Khouri
Human rights activist
UPDATE March 27: See 2, above

7. Nahed Badawiya
Badawiya, a former prisoner of conscience, was detained by the Syrian authorities in May 2005 as a member of the Jamal al-Atassi Forum, a political discussion group, after one of the Forum members, Ali al-Abdallah (see above), read a statement by the exiled leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Syria, which called for political reform. She was also threatened with the expulsion of her husband, Salama Kayla, a Palestinian journalist, and a prisoner of conscience from 1992 to 2000, imprisoned on charges of “opposing the objectives of the revolution,” who has lived in Syria for 25 years. In June 2005, the Political Security department reportedly gave instructions at all Syrian border points to deny Kayla re-entry to the country so that he was unable to travel to France for a yearly check-up for leukaemia at a Paris hospital.

8. Kamal Cheikho (aka Sheikho)
A Kurdish literature student, blogger and human rights defender who formerly worked with the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria, and subsequently became active in defending human rights independently, Cheikho is also a former prisoner of conscience. Imprisoned last summer on charges of “spreading false information that could debilitate the morale of the nation,” he was released on bail of 500 Syrian pounds (around $10) on March 3. He vehemently denies the charges against him and had begun a hunger strike on February 16 in protest against his detention. His next hearing is scheduled for March 28.

9. Suhair Atassi
A human rights activist, living in Damascus, she runs the Jamal Atassi Forum group on Facebook, an extension of the banned Jamal Atassi Forum. The forum calls for political reforms in Syria and the reinstatement of civil rights and the cancellation of the emergency law that has suspended constitutional rights since 1963. See here for an excellent interview Al-Jazeera conducted with Atassi last month.

10. Abd Al-Hamid al-Tammo (aka Abdul al-Razzaq al-Temmo)
Brother of prisoner of conscience Mesh’al al-Tammo (see 11, above)

11. Adel Al-Bunni
A son of prisoner of conscience Anwar Bunni (see 8, above)

12. Fahima Herveen Saleh Awsi
A member of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights (acting as a monitor)

13. Naret Ibrahim Abdul Karim

14. Badr Eddin al-Shallash

15. Mohamed Osama Nassar

16. Zokan Naoufal (aka Nofal)

17. Bisher Jawdat Saeed

18. Saad Jawdat Saeed

19. Ghaffar Hikmat Muhammad

20. Dana Ibrahim al-Jawabra

21. Wafa Mohamed al-Lahham
UPDATE March 27: See 2, above

22. Nabil Walij Shurbaji

23. Rayan Kamal Suleyman

24. Daya al-Din Daghmoush (aka Dia Eldin Doghmosh)

25. Nasredin Ahmou (aka Nasr Eddin Fakhr Eddin Ahmi)

26. Ali Abdul Rahman al-Muqdad

27. Shaher al-Warea

28. Hisham Khalid al-Droubi

29. Mohammad Hassan al-Khalil

30. Nisreen Khalid Hasan
UPDATE March 27: Probably Nasreen al-Housien, a fifth-year student at Damascus University Faculty of Medicine, mentioned as detained by Wissam Tarif, and as being released on bail on March 23

31. Fahed al-Bassam al-Yimani

32. Mudar al-Asimi

(iii) The 10 prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown

1. Hussein al-Labwani
Another relative of prisoner of conscience Kamal al-Labwani (see 1, above)
UPDATE Mar 27: As Wissam Tarif reported on Twitter on March 17, he was “not sent with the detainees to the court today. Risk of torture in arbitrary detention.” On March 24, he added, “Hussein al-Labwani is in serious risk of torture in Al-Mazi political security branch.”

2. Hannibal al-Hassan (aka Hanibal Awad)
The 10-year old son of Raghda Hassan (see 10, above)

3. Mahmoud Ghorani
A relative of prisoner of conscience Tarek Ghorani (see 14, above)
UPDATE March 27: On March 24, Wissam Tarif reported that he was “detained in Mazi Political Security Branch. Serious risk of torture.”

4. Bara Kellizy (aka Bara’ah Kalziyeh, Bara Kellizin)
Architect
UPDATE March 27: On March 24, Wissam Tarif reported that he was “detained in the Mazi Political Security Branch. Serious risk of torture.”

5. Mohammad Adib Matar

6. Mohammad Darwish

7. Mohamad Mounir Alfakeer (aka Mohammad Munir al-Fakir)

8. Mohamad al-Khateb (aka al-Katib)

9. Abdul Rahman Khitou (aka Kheto)

10. Wissam Tarif
Born in Lebanon, Tarif has played a major role in advocating for democracy and human rights in Syria and Lebanon, as an intellectual and an activist, and primarily as the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience (FDPOC) — now superseded by the European-based INSAN (whose name is based on the Arabic for “human”). Tarif continues to works on a regional and international level, focusing on the situation in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular.
UPDATE March 27: Despite being interrogated 17 times by the Syrian security police during his time in Syria, and surviving several attempts on his life, there is no evidence that Tarif was detained after the March 16 protest, as he has been a source of important information on Twitter throughout this whole period.

Other prisoners included in an urgent action issued by Amnesty International

On March 23, Amnesty International released an urgent action, regarding at least 93 people — including five women and at least 12 children under the age of 18, and consisting of school and university students, journalists, intellectuals and political activists — who were arrested by the Syrian security forces between March 8 and 23 in Aleppo, Banias, Damascus, Dera’a, Douma, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Ma’aratan Nu’man and al-Malkiyah, and whose places of detention are unknown, raising fears that they, like many of those listed above, are at risk of torture. This is in spite of the fact that many of those held “are likely to be prisoners of conscience, held merely for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression and association by peacefully supporting or taking part in protests.” Amnesty also noted, “The real number of those arrested is likely to be considerably higher. According to one Syrian human rights organization, around 300 people had been arrested in Dera’a [alone] in the five days up to and including 22 March.”

Prisoners listed by Amnesty, excluding those arrested in Damascus on March 16, are as follows:

University students Abdullah Mas’oud, Adham Bittar, Wissam Bdiwi, Hassan al-Homsi, Shahem al-Yousefi and Manhal Shahni. They were all arrested on 8 March from their homes in the town of Ma’aratan Nu’man, apparently for calling for anti- government protests on Facebook.

Seventeen-year-old high school students Azo Sriyoul, Yasser Ibrahim, Amjad al-Samadi and Ahmed Majed al-Saydawi were all arrested on 11 March from their high school in Douma, near Damascus, for writing anti-government slogans on the wall.

Marwa al-Ghemyan, a 17-year-old female student, was one of a group of at least 11 people who were arrested on 15 March for taking part in a small peaceful demonstration that was held in Damascus.

Nasr Sa’id was arrested on 16 March when he responded to a summons from the State Security branch in the coastal city of Latakia, apparently for distributing brochures calling for democratic change.

Hussein Mustafa Ali, aged 25, is suspected to have been arrested on 18 March possibly for taking part in a protest that was held in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus that day. According to his family, they have not heard from him since that day and his mobile is turned off. They did, however, see a glimpse of him on one of the protest videos posted on YouTube. As far as Amnesty International is aware at least 10 other men were also arrested that day from the Umayyad Mosque.

Issa Masalmeh was arrested from his home in Dera’a on 21 March. He is a leading member of an unauthorized opposition party, the Arab Socialist Union.

Mus’ab Sheikh Amin, aged 14, Rafe’ Abu Ghaloun, aged 16, ‘Abdullah Amin, aged 17, and Saleh Abu Ghaloun, aged 18, were all arrested on 22 March by Military Security in the northern city of Aleppo apparently for attempting to demonstrate in support of the protests in Dera’a. According to Mus’ab Sheikh Amin’s family, when they saw him with Military Security officers who brought him to his home to search it, his hands and legs were badly injured and his clothes were bloodied. Reportedly, the families of the four were thrown out of the Military Security branch in Aleppo when they attempted to ask for the whereabouts of their sons.

Lo’ay Hussein, a writer and journalist, was arrested from his home near Damascus on 22 March apparently for publishing on the internet a petition in solidarity with protestors in Dera’a and calling for the Syrian people’s right to peacefully expressing their opinions.

To write to the Syrian government demanding the release of all political prisoners, including all those named in this article, please use the addresses and contact details below:

President
Bashar al-Assad
Presidential Palace
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 3410

Minister of Interior
Major Sa’id Mohamed Samour
Ministry of Interior
Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 222 3428

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Walid al-Mu’allim
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 214 6251

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

20 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Sharing this.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Maria Allison wrote:

    Dugg and sharing.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jacqueline Prives Golburgh wrote:

    sharing!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Roland Jesperson wrote:

    shared, dugg and tweeted. Hope you’re recovering well Andy!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Lizzie Cornish wrote:

    Shared, Andy…and I share Roland’s sentiments too…get well soon.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, my friends, for your continued interest in my health, and for your interest in the plight of the Syrians. This story is close to my heart as I have a good friend from Syria, formerly tortured by the regime, who is now living in the UK, and through his accounts (and through my research into the Bush administration’s use of Syria’s torture prisons), I have developed a particular hatred for the size and brutality of the police state in Syria.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the link, Michael. That’s a disturbing video, and as I’ve been discovering through research, Syrian activists believe it may be actual footage of the Saydnaya (Sednaya) prison massacre in July 2008, when, in response to a revolt by political prisoners, the regime reasserted control through the cold-blooded murder of the rioting prisoners. What’s also interesting about the video, as exiled Syrian activist Ammar Abdulhamid explained in the Australian media yesterday, is that the video appears to show President Assad’s briother Majd directing the massacre. In Abdulhamid’s words: “the army stormed on orders from Bashar al-Assad and the video is showing a person who looks very much like his brother Majd al-Assad. I mean everyone who saw the video is saying this is Majd al- Assad. We are trying now to find someone who really knows him very intimately because he tends to be media shy, so in order to verify whether indeed this is Majd al-Assad or not.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:

    I have a Syrian friend now safely in the states, I am also very interested in anything anyone learns, thank you Andy. Hope you are feeling better, that comes first, you have no control, Andy, I know you care, so do I , but stay relaxed and calm and get well. spc

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Clare Boothe Lucid wrote:

    fyi – 200 released earlier today – unconfirmed twitter reports of another 70 released: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2011/03/syria-authorities-release-more-than-70-political-prisoners-human-rights-activist-says.html

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Clare Boothe Lucid wrote:

    note: please don’t think my link means I am in any way relying on Asad to do the right thing – Hama is very much on my mind

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Clare Boothe Lucid wrote:

    p.s. getting good info from: @Mohammad_Syria, @wissamtarif, @ZainSyr, and @daraanow

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Lisa Barr wrote:

    isn’t obomber invading syria next?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Eugene Hernandez wrote:

    Obama opened a can of worms, now what will be his excuse to intervene in Syria?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Lee Wood wrote:

    Andy, I wonder, do people in other countries look at old and newer American political prisoners with the same detachment that Americans look at Syrian political prisoners? And/or do others even know about America’s political prisoners? I know American prisoners, in general, have great respect and fear for the safety of tortured ME prisoners. I know when political and demonstrating prisoners were being beaten in America – speaking only for myself, I didn’t care about anything outside. I was terrorized by goon guards, and only thought about myself and my fellow beaten prisoners.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone. Great links and tips, Clare, and Lee, those are very good questions indeed about America’s political prisoners — to which I don’t have any answers. Thoughts, anyone?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    This is the LA Times “Babylon & Beyond” blog post, by Alexandra Sandels in Beirut:

    Syrian authorities released more than 200 political prisoners on Saturday, according to the London-based rights group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and angry mourners reportedly torched a police station and the local headquarters for the Baath Party near Dara during a funeral for a demonstrator killed on Friday.

    Syrian Observatory for Human Rights carried a breaking news alert on its website Saturday [in Arabic], saying that more than 200 political prisoners had been released from Saidnaya prison outside Damascus — a jail known for keeping political detainees.

    Rami Abdulrahman, head of the rights group, told Agence France-Presse that the majority of those released on Saturday were Islamists. No further details were immediately available.

    One Syrian human rights advocate told Babylon & Beyond that authorities had issued pardons for 260 people and that preliminary reports indicated that they were Islamists and had no relation to the protests in Dara.

    Also, media reports surfaced Saturday that Syrian television was announcing that 70 political detainees had been released.

    There was no immediate confirmation from Syrian authorities about the reports.

    The reports of the prisoner releases did not appear to appease some opposition activists, who said the people would not be tricked by “empty promises” and talk.

    “The regime releases 70 political prisoners ..!!! And where are the 16,000 prisoners jailed over 30 years who fate are unknown?,” asked a posting on the Facebook page of the group The Syrian Revolution 2011. “Oh … your empty promises will not deceive this people.”

    Syria has reportedly released other detainees over the last few days, apparently to try to appease demonstrators and prevent the backlash from a deadly clampdown on protesters from escalating further.

    But dozens of others are reported to have been arrested at demonstrations across the country.

    Sources told Babylon & Beyond that protests were underway in some areas on Saturday and that funerals of people who died in demonstrations in towns and cities such as Dara, Lattakia and Homs were taking place.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Anomaly OneHundred wrote:

    Well done Andy! An excellent read.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    I just received the following message from Sheila Mosley,a supporter of Kurdish rights:

    Hi Andy,

    I have just found your links on our webpage, and uploaded the information to the website: http://supportkurds.org/reports/political-prisoners-in-syria-an-urgent-crisis-now/

    Many thanks for including Kurdish political prisoners – they’re often forgotten

    All the best,
    Sheila

    …………………………………..
    Co-Chair: International Support Kurds in Syria Association [SKS]
    Web:http://supportkurds.org

    Email: info@supportkurds.org

    see also: http://qarn.org.uk

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Sheila. It’s very good to hear from you. Please keep me posted about any news you have, and feel free to add me to any mailing lists.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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