Human rights lawyer and activist Anwar Bunni was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine for "weakening the morale of the nation." (Arabic. AKI, 4/24/07). The fine is to be paid to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which had demanded compensation for all the sums received by Bunni from the EU Commission, as director of the (partially EU-funded) center for human rights which he opened in Syria and which the Syrian authorities shut down in March 2006, a week after its opening. (Arabic. Elaph, 4/24/07).
Bunni was arrested in May 2006 along with ten others, including Michel Kilo, after signing the "Beirut-Damascus Declaration." The declaration, signed by around 300 Syrian and Lebanese activists, called on Syria to correct its relations with Lebanon and comply with UN resolutions by demarcating the border, setting up an embassy in Beirut and recognizing Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.
Bunni's defense called the sentence "a political decision" that has nothing to do with the law and should be annulled.
During the hearing, Bunni stressed that his trial was not because of any crime, but in order to silence him for his exposing of human rights violations, which is something he will never give up. He added that he considered the charge leveled against him a source of pride, and that he considered his trial a political charade subject to the directives of the powers that concocted it. Amnesty International held the same view in a statement released yesterday prior to the sentencing.
During his detention, Bunni was repeatedly abused as he was placed in the criminal ward and assaulted by common criminals, in the presence of the prison guards and with the knowledge of the prison administration, and at times even beaten by the prison guards. He detailed the conditions of political prisoners in a recent letter from jail to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (English. ME Transparent, 3/10/07).