Dissidents Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa were sentenced today to three years in prison each for "weakening national sentiment, spreading false news, and inciting sectarian strife." (Arabic. Elaph, 5/13/07).
Two other dissidents, Suleiman Shammar and Khalil Hussein, who have been in hiding for months, were sentenced in absentia to ten years each; Five for weakening national sentiment, and five for inciting a foreign state to attack Syria.
The four dissidents, are signatories to the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, a joint document by hundreds of Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals calling for the rectification of bilateral relations through the respect of Lebanese sovereignty and independence, delineation of borders, exchange of embassies, and abiding by UN resolutions.
Kilo and Issa were arrested in May 2006 along with a number of other signatories to the declaration some of whom have since been released. Another signatory, Anwar Bunni, was sentenced on April 24 to five years. And with these verdicts, the Beirut-Damascus Declaration file was closed.
The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria (NOHR-S) condemned the sentence as politically motivated, since the charges have no legal standing. Dissidents in Syria were fearful that after the rough sentences against Bunni and Kamal Labwani, Kilo would also get a harsh sentence. (Arabic. Elaph, 5/11/07). Labwani was sentenced to twelve years on Thursday. The White House has condemned both sentences.
Six detained leading opposition figures warned earlier this month that the "repressive climate" in the country was worsening and called for the release of all political prisoners. (AFP, 5/1/07). The statement was published in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar on May 1 and signed by Kilo, Issa, Bunni, Labwani, Faeq al-Mir, and Aref Dalilah, who has been detained since 2001 and is serving a ten year term.
The six opposition figures called for "solidarity" with rights activists jailed in Syria, which has been under a state of emergency ever since the Baath party seized power in 1963.
"The Syrian people are paying a heavy price in order to obtain their rights, and we hope that we are the last payment of this expensive price in order for the Syrians to regain their freedoms," they said.