Syria: Internet activists jailed after unfair trials and alleged torture

Amnesty International today (21 June) called for the release of seven students and a beautician who were jailed in Syria after calling for peaceful political reforms online.

The seven are believed to have been arrested and tried because of their involvement in developing a youth discussion group and for publishing pro-democracy articles on the Internet.

They were sentenced to prison terms of between five and seven years on 17 June 2007 after an unfair trial in Damascus before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), whose procedures fail to satisfy international fair trial standards and from which there is no right of appeal.

They were reportedly detained in solitary confinement from their arrests between January and March until the end of April 2006. During their trial all seven defendants denied the charges and repudiated “confessions” that they alleged had been extracted from them under torture and duress while they were held in incommunicado detention. The court failed to undertake any investigation into their claims of torture and accepted the contested “confessions” as evidence.

All seven -Maher Isber Ibrahim, aged 26, Tareq al-Ghorani, Hussam ‘Ali Mulhim, Diab Siriyeh, and ‘Omar ‘Ali al’Abdullah, all aged 22, and 29-year-old ‘Allam Fakhour, and Ayham Saqr, aged 31 – were convicted of “taking action or making a written statement or speech which could endanger the State or harm its relationship with a foreign country, or expose it to the risk of hostile action” under Article 278 of the Syrian Penal Code. Maher Isber Ibrahim and Tareq al-Ghorani were also convicted of “broadcasting of false news” under Article 287 of the Code; they received seven year prison sentences while their five co-accused, all students except Ayham Saqr who works in a beauty salon, received five year terms. An eighth man, ‘Ali Nizar ‘Ali, was released under an amnesty on 28 December 2006.

Amnesty International considers all seven to be prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

The harsh sentences come after Amnesty warned earlier this month that freedom of expression online was under serious threat from a creeping “Virus of Repression”. Politically motivated closure of websites and Internet cafes, as well as imprisonment and intimidation of web users, are on the rise. Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, a 22-year-old Egyptian blogger, was sentenced to four years imprisonment in February this year for ‘contempt of religion’ and ‘defaming the President of Egypt’, a clear message to Egypt’s burgeoning blogging community.

Amnesty International this month marked the first anniversary of irrepressible.info, a campaign to combat the repression of Internet users around the world. The campaign seeks to harness the power of the Internet, mobilising web users to take action against governments who are censoring and blocking sites or imprisoning other web users.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Web users have been both victims of human rights abuse and successful campaigners against it.

“The Internet is the new front in the battle between those who want to speak out, and those who want to stop them.”

  • Find out more about Amnesty's campaign against internet repression
  • Find out more about Amnesty's work on the Middle East and Gulf /li>

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