SYRIA: Leading opposition activist released

'This is a very positve step, but the Syrian authorities should not stop here. All other prisoners of conscience, including 'Aref Dalilah, Hasan Sa'dun and Habib Saleh who are reportedly suffering from ill-health, should be released immediately.'

Riad al-Turk is a leading member of the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of various Syrian opposition groups and the First Secretary of the unauthorized Syrian Communist Party - Political Bureau. He had been detained as a prisoner of conscience without charge or trial and mostly incommunicado from 1980 to 1998. Riad al-Turk was re-arrested by the security forces on 1 September 2001 during a wider crackdown on government critics. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison by the Supreme State Security Court on charges including 'attempting to change the constitution by illegal means' on 26 June 2002. Riad al-Turk is known to be suffering from diabetes as well as a heart condition.

Amnesty International has regularly expressed its concerns in public statements about the politically motivated detention and unfair trial of a dozen prominent opposition figures and activists in civil society groups since September 2001.

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