The crackdown against dissidents in Syria continues. Writer Muhammad Ghanem, who was arrested in March, was sentenced by a military court to a year in prison, commuted to six months. Ghanem faced charges of defaming the president of the republic, denigrating the State, and inciting sectarian strife (Arabic. SHRC, 6/8/06).
Ghanem was taken from his house in March by security agents. He was an outspoken advocate of Kurdish rights and criticized the regime's policies in his writings, especially on the "Souriyyoun" site to which he contributed.
Meanwhile, the trial of another writer, Mahmoud Sarem (71), began last week at the State Security Court (Arabic. Levant News, 6/9/06). Sarem was arrested in September 2005 and faced charges of weakening the morale of the nation and nationalist sentiment, and conducting acts aimed at armed rebellion. Sarem had described the ruling regime as fascist.
Sarem remained defiant at his trial session, calling for a new constitution and for holding officials accountable for their corruption. He has declared an open hunger strike, despite his failing health, and his trial was postponed to the end of August.
The regime had also arrested two more people two weeks ago. Human rights activist Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights, said in a statement that Communist activist Yasser Melhem was seized from his office and poet Omar Idilbi was taken from his home and were both transferred to a detention center in Damascus (UPI, 5/30/06).
"The new arrests come within the framework of tightening the noose on human rights and public freedom activists," Qurabi said.
Qurabi also said in another statement that writer Lou'ay Husein was barred from traveling to Lebanon where he was to take part in a talk show on al-Hurra TV. He was returned to Damascus from the Lebanese-Syrian border (UPI, 6/7/06).
Meanwhile, the third annual report by the Committee for Human Rights in Syria detailed the abuses of the Syrian legal system (Arabic. Elaph, 6/12/06). It said that physical and psychological torutre was the still the primary method of the security services. The report cited recent trials, such as the sentencing of activist Riad Drar to 5 years and Abdel Sattar Qattan to 12 years, as examples of unjust trials.
Similarly, human rights sources have said that the charges thrown at the Beirut- Damascus Declaration detainees are false and legally baseless (Arabic. Ahrar Syria, 6/11/06). Furthermore, the authorities still refuse to release them despite repeated calls and petitions.
The detainees have postponed their hunger strike planned for June 10 (Arabic. Elaph, 6/11/06). Akram al-Bunni, brother of detained human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, told IRIN news that Anwar had stopped his hunger strike which lasted for more than three weeks (IRIN, 6/6/06). Anwar al-Bunni's wife and mother were forbidden by the prison's administrators from visiting him on Saturday.