A Syrian court sentenced 12 prominent dissidents to two and a half years each in prison Oct. 29 for calling for democratic reforms and an end to the Baath Party’s monopoly on power. The dissidents, 11 men and a woman, were arrested last year after holding a large meeting to revive a movement that called for freedom of expression and a new constitution in Syria. The defendants, who are among Syria’s leading intellectuals and opposition figures, have been imprisoned since their arrest. The charges against them include “weakening national morale.” (Reuters, Oct. 29)
Ammar Qurabi of Syria’s indpenedent National Organization for Human Rights expressed “deep shock” at the verdicts and called for the immediate release of the defendants, saying they had exercised “their right of freedom of expression.” (BBC, Oct. 29)
The White House immediately charged that Syria engages in “systematic repression of its own citizens,” called for the immediate release of the dissidents. “The United States condemns the sentencing of 12 members of the Damascus Declaration National Council to two and a half years in prison,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a statement. “This judgment once again underscores the Syrian regime’s contempt for the fundamental rights and freedoms of their people.” (AFP, Oct. 30)
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