Syria: Stop targeting peaceful critics

The SSSC today sentenced Riad al-Turk (72) to two and a half years in prison on charges of 'attempting to change the constitution by illegal means'. Two days earlier another prisoner of conscience, Habib Saleh (52), was sentenced to three years on charges of 'opposing the objectives of the revolution' and 'inciting ethnic and sectarian strife.'

Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Riad al-Turk and Habib Saleh as they have been tried solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. Riad al-Turk, who suffers from a heart condition and diabetes, had been released in 1998 after having been arbitrarily detained without charge or trial for over 17 years.

'The Syrian authorities must ensure that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in accordance with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Syria is state party. Critics must not be penalised for peacefully expressing their opinion,' Amnesty International said.

Riad al-Turk and Habib Saleh and eight others were arbitrarily arrested and detained in August and September 2001 for their involvement with emerging civil society groups and forums. Two parliamentarians, Riad Seif and Mamun al-Humsi, were referred to the Criminal Court on similar charges and sentenced to five years in prison after unfair trials. The remaining six prisoners, including 'Aref Dalila, are still being tried before the SSSC. 'Aref Dalila, alleges to have been ill-treated and beaten while being held at Adra prison.

'The Syrian authorities must investigate Dalila's complaints of ill-treatment by prison authorities and no evidence or confession extracted under torture should be used against him in court,' Amnesty International said.

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