Syria: Verdicts due in case of men facing up to three years for internet use

Amnesty International, which is calling for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in Syria held for exercising their right to freedom of expression, is also concerned that the three men have received an unfair trial, having been tried by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) - where trials routinely fall far short of international fair trial standards.

The men - Muhannad Koutaish, his brother Haytham and Yahia Alous - were reportedly arrested for sending articles to an electronic newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. They have been tried by the SSSC on charges related to 'publishing false reports', carrying a prison sentence of between three months and three years. They are currently held in Sednaya prison and are regarded by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.

Another man, 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri, is due to face trial (also on 15 March) on charges connected to the use of internet sites containing political information and sending articles to his friends. He was arrested on 23 February 2003 and reportedly beaten in custody before being transferred to Sednaya prison where he is said to be held without access to his family or lawyers. On the day of 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri's arrest, secret police agents were reported to have entered his house and confiscated his computer, fax machine, CDs and other computer-related items.

The authorities in Syria carefully monitor internet access and unfettered access is only possible by dialling internet service providers in neighbouring countries. More generally, over the past four decades hundreds of Syrians have suffered excessive restrictions on their right to freedom of expression. The government imposes censorship on correspondence, communications and information media.

Over the years Amnesty International has documented evidence of opponents or suspected opponents not involved in violence who are routinely detained, harassed, tortured and, in some cases, summarily or extra-judicially executed. The organisation has repeatedly expressed grave concern over the arrest and detention of hundreds of prisoners of conscience.

The State of Emergency Law established in 1963 has over the years facilitated gross human rights violations in Syria. This month saw the 41st anniversary of the imposition of State of Emergency Law. Recently dozens of people, including human rights defenders, were arrested on 8 March when they marked the anniversary by protesting outside parliament against this law. They were all said to be released without charge on the same day.

Related information

China: E-repression leads to dramatic rise in those imprisoned for expressing opinions online - press release, 28 January 2004:

Cuba: New law restricting internet access may prevent human rights monitoring - press release, 13 January 2004: /p>

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