06/20/2006, 00.00
SYRIA

Growing repression in Damascus, 17 top officials sacked

by Jihad Issa
According to the 'Syrian Human Rights Association' the 17 bureaucrats lost their job because of their support for the 'Damascus-Beirut declaration' that calls for the normalisation of relation between the two countries. Making the sacking public is a warning against human rights activists.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – New stage in the Syrian government's repression against any form of opposition. Yesterday 17 top government officials were sacked because, according to the Association des droits de l'homme en Syrie or ADHS (Syrian Human Rights Association), they "backed a petition that called for the release of two human rights activists arrested in May" and because they signed "Damascus-Beirut declaration" which calls for the normalisation of relations between Syria and Lebanon.

The dismissal is the consequence of a worsening political and social situation as internal and external pressures against the Baa'thist regime mount. The Baa'th party, which has governed the country for the past 40 years, and the government of President Bachar el-Assad are trying to maintain internal unity.

This explains the announcement by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otariof the removal of 17 top officials (eight from the Education Ministry, the others from the Health, Energy, Finance, Agriculture and Information Ministries).

In the past, such measures were never made public. The fact that they were this time is a sign that the regime wants close ranks against anti-regime tendencies, Mohamad Majzoub, a former high official in the Education and Higher Learning Ministry, told AsiaNews.

In a statement highly critical of the government's latest move, the ADHS has called on friends of freedom to help stop abuses by the Syrian government, which "is unable to distinguish between faults requiring disciplinary action and freedom of thought. For this reason, the human rights group is organising a campaign against abuses committed in the last months in order to reawaken the conscience of Syrians.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Ammar Korabi, who chairs the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, criticised "the government's latest aggression on the freedom of citizens", calling on everyone, Christians and Muslims, to help "block the government' campaign against fundamental human rights".

Answering a question about the trial against many activists in the patriotic movement, he said that the court case against Kamal al-Libwani, who is accused for "having had contacts with the United States" and inciting "aggression against Syria", continued yesterday.

In Syria there are an estimated 20,000 political prisoners.

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