Syria: detained dissidents beaten?

More arrests of Syrian opposition activists, and it appears some of them are being roughed up. From Lebanon’s Daily Star, May 20:

BEIRUT: A prominent Syrian human rights lawyer who was arrested this week is being subject to beatings, his brother said Friday, even as the European Union condemned Syria’s latest crackdown on dissidents.

The official Syrian press announced Friday that 17 “Syrian traitors” have been arrested this week – including lawyer Anwar al-Bunni – in connection with the signing of the “Beirut-Damascus Declaration,” which urged the Syrian government to recognize Lebanon’s independence and called for better relations between the two countries.

“It has now become forbidden to even think in Syria,” Bunni’s brother Akram told The Daily Star in a telephone interview.

Late Wednesday, Anwar Bunni was taken from his home by Syrian security personnel.

“He called out to me for help as we live in the same building, but by the time I got to him, he was gone,” said Akram, adding that he had been informed by lawyers who visited his brother that “he was beaten, with visible marks on his face.”

The EU issued a statement criticizing Syria and urged the “Syrian authorities to reconsider all cases of political prisoners and immediately release all prisoners of conscience.”

“The EU expresses its deep concern about the recent widespread harassment of human rights defenders, their families and peaceful political activists, in particular arbitrary arrests and repeated incommunicado detention,” said the statement.

Contacted by The Daily Star, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the arrests were “a clear message by the Syrian regime that it has zero tolerance toward any form of dissidence in Syria.”

HRW’s representative for the Middle East, Nadim Houry, said: “The arrests of activists and intellectuals by Syrian authorities have been happening over the past year, with increased intensity over the past few days, to declare there is no room for a third middle opinion, one between the official Syrian line and the international community line.”

Akram al-Bunni cast doubt on the official reason given for the arrests, saying that “there are tens of other writings and petitions of this nature, so why such a strong reaction to this particular petition, which in no way offends the regime?”

Akram, a journalist, spent 17 years behind bars for some of his writings, which were considered “against the regime.”

“This new campaign is probably a local reaction to the international pressures on Syria, such as the new UN Security Council Resolution 1680,” he said, “but what is the logic in that? I don’t know.”

Akram Bunni said he expects to be arrested soon, adding that “the wave of arrests will continue until all Syrians who signed the petition are behind bars.”

“The sentencing can take up months, if not years, as has been known to take place in Syria’s judicial system,” he added.

The petition was signed by at least 300 Syrian and Lebanon intellectuals and was published in Beirut last Thursday.

Denunciations of the arrests were also launched by Lebanese officials such as Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and former Prime Minister Salim Hoss, who sent a letter to President Bashar Assad requesting the release of the detainees.

See our last post on Syria.