The Committee for Syrian National Democratic Action in Europe called for a gathering tonight in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe in solidarity with democracy and human rights activists and to protest the Syrian regime's crackdown on freedom of expression, and to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners, abolish emergency laws in effect since 1963, and respect international human rights treaties (Arabic. Elaph, 5/23/06).
Various intellectuals, academics, and civil society activists supported the idea and many prominent figures, such as Professor Burhan Ghalyoun and the prominent Lebanese-Syrian poet Adonis, announced they will participate. Also, representatives from the French Communist, Socialist and Green parties, as well as representatives from the Lebanese Democratic Left party, said they would attend.
A statement by the Committee called on the Syrian people and Arab, French and international democractic forces to move quickly with all available means to end this situation in Syria and support the Syrian people in its battle for freedom, and called for democracy in Syria.
In turn, the Lebanese Democratic Left announced a sit-in in Beirut tonight in solidarity with the prisoners of conscience in Syria (Arabic. AKI, 5/22/06). It said in a statement, "this latest wave is but an example that confirms the method of the authoritarian Syrian regime in dealing with any blossoming democratic movement in Syria and even in Lebanon," adding that the Lebanese people "will remain the first supporter of the Syrian people deprived of their most basic civil rights."
A number of Lebanese politicians, intellectuals and journalists had issued calls for the release of the detainees, and Lebanese papers were filled with columns and opinion pieces condemning the arrests and expressing solidarity with the detainees. (Statements by Lebanese and Syrian figures and organizations condemning the arrest of Michel Kilo and others and calling for the release of prisoners of conscience can be seen here, here, and here. [Arabic. ME Transparent, May 15, 16, and 17 respectively.])
Also, ten Syrian and Arab human rights organizations issued an international petition condemning "the dictatorial and totalitarian policy of the ruling regime," and asking for the release of the detained intellectuals and activists and for "the lifting of the state of emergency, abolishing extraordinary courts, the return of Syrian exiles to their homeland, and the establishment of a consitutional democratic state with rule of law." (Arabic. AKI, 5/22/06). Jordanian journalists, activists, and intellectuals also condemned the regime's crackdown and arrest of dissidents and intellectuals. (Arabic. Ahrar Syria, 5/18/06).
Human Rights Watch had also condemned the campaign and called for the immediate release of the detainees. The organization's deputy director for the ME and North Africa division said that the arrest of respected critics like Bunni and Kilo "shows that the Syrian government has no interest in peaceful homegrown reform."
The EU's presidency also issued a statement (PDF file) condemning the arrests. The Syrian government quickly and strongly rejected the statement, calling it blatant interference in Syrian domestic affairs. It filed a protest with the ambassarods ot the EU Commission and Austria (which currently holds the EU presidency). Syria's information minister even said during a meeting with the Danish ambassador that Syria was "an example to be followed" when it comes to citizens' rights (Arabic. "Free Syria," 5/23/06).
In related news, a spokesman from the Europe-based opposition group "Rally for Syria" told Elaph that this negative attitude towards the EU will only increase the regime's isolation (Arabic. 5/22/06). Fahd al-Masri added that the Rally will ask through EU MPs for the recalling of European ambassadors and for the freezing of diplomatic relations with Syria. He also said that a legal suit will be filed against the Syrian regime for their crimes against the Syrian people. The suit will be filed with the French courts, the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Syrian analyst Ammar Abdulhamid also called for recalling ambassadors in a post on his weblog.
The Rally has been engaged in efforts to reach out to members of the EU parliament and to lobby for support for the rights of the Syrian people and the ending of human rights abuses and emergency laws in Syria. (Arabic. Elaph via "Free Syria," 5/19/06). Various anonymous EU MPs and diplomats were quoted as saying that they want the UN and the EU to follow the UN resolutions against the Syrian regime with firm action ensuring their application so as not to render them tootheless, thereby exposing dissidents in Syria and the fragile Lebanese government to retaliation from the regime (Arabic. With Agencies, via "Free Syria," 5/20/06).