05/03/2007, 00.00
SYRIA
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Detained for over a year in Damascus for having spoken of peace and democracy

Seven young Syrians debated and wrote articles on line in favour of democracy. They have been kept in isolation since 2006 and risk over 15 years in prison. Amnesty International reports that they have been subjected to torture to extort confessions and are being tried by a special judge.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Seven young Syrians have been kept in isolation for over a year, they have been tortured to extort confessions and now they risk over 15 years in prison for having expressed their desire for peace and democracy via Internet.  Amnesty International (Ai) denounces the Syrian justice system and launches an appeal for their release.

The seven young men (between 21 and 30) students and workers made up a discussion group to express their thoughts and hopes on the Internet.  In a posting by one of the detainees, Tareq al-Ghorani wrote: “I believe in democracy, real democracy…which is not something that is the same for all countries. I believe in moral standards arising from Syrian society.” The website www.akhawaia.net which hosted them has since been closed.

The seven young men,– as well as a friend who was released in December 2006 - were arrested by agents of Air Force Intelligence (AFI) between 26 January and 18 March 2006 and face two charges: “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” (Article 278 of the Syrian Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment); and “broadcasting of false news” deemed to be harmful to the state (Article 287, which carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment).  Since then they have been in isolation, for months locked away in Harasta, near Damascus, before they were transferred to Sednaya, without being able to see their relatives or receive warm clothing (Sednaya is within the mountainous region) and finally brought before the SSSC on 26 November. The SSSC functions in accordance with the state of emergency legislation and is designated for the trial of people charged with political and state security offences. It operates outside the normal justice system under the control of the executive branch of the government.  This court – observes the Ai – lack independence and impartiality, and its decisions are not subject to appeal.

The young men met their defence lawyers for the first time at the trial for a few minutes and in the presence of guards.  At the most recent session, on 15 April, most of the lawyers were prevented from meeting with the young men and “warned” not to talk to them.

At the first hearing each of the men denied the charges and said that they had been tortured to make them “confess”. Amnesty International has documented some 38 methods of torture and ill-treatment inflicted on detainees in Syria over the years and has received hundreds of reports of cases of torture of detainees; however, the organisation is not aware of a single case in which suspected torturers have been brought to justice. Since its establishment in 1968 the SSSC has functioned in accordance with the state of emergency legislation and is designated for the trial of people charged with political and state security offences, which are very widely interpreted.  Ai denounces that prisons are full of hundreds of political prisoners.

On of the young men were released on the presidential amnesty given for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha. For the rest sentencing is due to begin on June 17th.

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