22

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


Freedom in Syrian jails

As western openness to the Syrian regime has amplified in the past few months, the regime has tightened its grip on Syrian intellectuals, writers and journalists who have dared to express different points of view. At the same time, the Syrian regime has been making promises to the West over diplomatic relations with Lebanon, stability in Iraq, and the war on terror. However, internal goings-on paint a different picture.

Tyranny and law

According to SKeyes, the foundation for the defense of cultural and media freedom in the Arab Mashreq (part of the Samir Kassir foundation), on November 2, 2008, the Syrian Court of Appeals decreed that Syrian writers Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, who were detained in 2006 after signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, should be freed. Both, however, remain incarcerated.

The Beirut-Damascus Declaration, signed by 123 Syrian intellectuals in 2006, called for a better Lebanese-Syrian relationship, border demarcation and diplomatic relations. However, the level of oppression suffered by these two writers shows the real Syrian commitment to Lebanese-Syrian diplomatic relations, especially when it’s served up for internal consumption.

Journalist and writer Michel Kilo was born in Latakia in 1940. He is one of the leading democratic figures in the country and is head of the Center for Defending the Press and Journalists in Syria. As well as being a member of the Damascus Declaration, he is one of the founders of a committee to revive civil society in Syria. He participated in many events in the Damascus Spring movement.

Mahmoud Issa was born in Banias in 1963, and holds a MA in English literature. Accused of being a member of the Communist Labor Party, he was detained as a political prisoner for eight years during the 1990s, deprived of his civil rights and the right to employment. He was also a writer for al-An (Now), a newspaper published by the Communist Labor Party.

Twelve further Syrian writers, artists and journalists who signed the Damascus Declaration, which called for peaceful democratic change in Syria, are also imprisoned. In fact, a few days following the declaration, around 40 signatories were arrested by state security forces.

The majority of those arrested were soon released, but a number of high-ranking members were kept in custody. They were subsequently charged with “weakened national sentiment” and for “undermining the image of the State.” They were also accused of inciting sectarian strife.

The twelve include author Ali Abdallah, former Member of Parliament Riyadh Seif, and the group’s leader Fidaa Horani. All were handed down a six-year prison sentence, but this was later reduced.

Shared aims

SKeyes held a press conference on Monday where a number of Arab journalists, writers and artists signed a solidarity statement to demand the immediate release of Kilo, Issa and the 12 other prisoners.

The Solidarity Statement demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of our colleagues, the 12 Syrian writers, artists and journalists who had signed the Damascus Declaration, which calls for peaceful and democratic change in Syria. We also call for the immediate release of the two writers, Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, who are detained unconstitutionally by obstructing the recent decision of the Court of Appeals to release them […] We also demand a transparent and independent investigation into the cases of torture in Syrian prisons, including ear piercing, hitting and solitary confinement, which were inflicted upon our detained colleagues.”

Head of the SKeyes foundation, writer and journalist Elias Khoury told NOW Lebanon that these are prisoners of conscience, and the Syrian regime, by arresting them, is not only disrespecting the freedom of speech, but also the Syrian constitution and the international human rights declarations that it signed.

The Syrian constitution secures freedom of expression in articles 38 and 39.  Moreover, the state of emergency in Syria cannot be anymore considered an excuse to violate the constitution and the international declarations; especially that it does not specify a timeframe or a geographic location.

In addition, SKeyes declared the defense committee representing the Syrian detainees stated that the accusations against the signatories could not be proved or demonstrated. Even if these charges were verified, the suspects can only be penalized in a state of war, a point on which the Court of Appeals based its November 2 verdict.

In context

SKeyes initiative has been criticized by some March 8 media outlets who accused the foundation of deliberating singling out the Syrian regime, despite similar practices occurring in other Arab states. However, this is not the first initiative by SKeyes. According to Khoury, the launch of the foundation marked the publication of a press release to the Lebanese media, calling for a solidarity statement with detained Jordanian writer Islam Samhan.

“We do not create cases. These cases exist around us and our duty is to defend the freedom of expression and opinion in Arab states,” Khoury added. This might involve solidarity statements, lobbying, demonstrations and the pursuit of legal channels.

According to Khoury, the cause is also the responsibility of all Arab writers, intellectuals and journalists. “The foundation’s capabilities and resources are open to any journalist wishing to take initiatives on freedom of expression. The issue of freedom is an apolitical issue in the first place; however, we are committed to objectivity in defending freedom of expression and opinion,” Khoury added.

A press release issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Sunday for the UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, to use his visit to Syria this week to raise human rights concerns. According to HRW, Miliband should urge the Syrian government to release activists detained solely for exercising freedom of expression and association.

In several recent speeches, Miliband has emphasized the UK’s support for human rights and said that the UK should be on the side of what he called “civilian surges,” those pushing for greater freedom and democracy in authoritarian states. Yet, at his news conference on November 13, Miliband did not mention any of the Syrians detained for pursuing greater freedom and democracy. Instead, he said the talks would focus on regional politics and counterterrorism.

Syria is now trying to boost its image as the West opens up to the regime, particularly the new US administration and European governments. Any talks or negotiations with the Syrian regime should not overlook the violations of human rights practiced by the regime, as any democratic process cannot tolerate the existence of prisoners of conscience.

  • Voltaire

    Syria did not co-operate on this. From the start when Mehlis was in charge Syria refused to comply with UN investigative procedures. Apart from that, the recent declarations of Syria 'co-operating satisfactorily' is nothing more than diplomatic speech. I was talking about the murders in Lebanon, not Syria. I actually happen to believe that Syria killed off Maghniyeh too.

    December 4, 2008

  • Sami

    Syria did cooperate with the UN on this subject: كما أحرز فريق براميرتس تقدماً في تحديد مصدر الآلية وأداة الجريمة وتحديد طبيعة العلاقات في ظلّ النظام الأمني الذي كان سائداً يوم وقوع الجريمة. وفي هذا الإطار وصف براميرتس في تقاريره إلى مجلس الأمن تعاون المسؤولين السوريين مع لجنة التحقيق بإيجابية لافتة، وخصوصاً بعدما كان ميليس قد شنّ حملة تحريض إعلامية على سوريا، متّهماً بعض القيادات السورية باغتيال الحريري، ناسفاً قرينة البراءة التي تشكّل حجر الزاوية في المحاكمات العادلة.There are 10 countries that did not cooperate with the UN, Saudi, Israel and the US are only a few of them.There is 3 victims who did not belong to March 14:Maghneyeh and Haj and General Suleiman in Syria.Look it up, may be Israel is involved in this.

    December 1, 2008

  • Voltaire

    The former generals evaded co-operation with the UN probe and made no secret of their closeness to Damascus, which also refused to co-operate with the UN probe, emphasising an obvious political alignment.Given their position, this made them heavily suspected.In contrast, Rifi has been, and still is, active in working with the UN investigative procedure.Given that these assasinations are political, my reasoning is based on a political analysis. All of the political murders in Lebaon since 2005 have been of the coalition that are against the Syrian regime. UN is taking this into consideration.

    November 30, 2008

  • Sami

    According to your logic, Voltair, then we should imprison Ashraf Reffi since he is in position of power when all the other political assassinations took place such as Pier Jumail, etc. This is a twisted logic.Most of our political assassinations are directed from the outside indicated by the capture of many Mossad directed spies.

    November 28, 2008

  • Voltaire

    The point is, the former generals are justifiably held whilst they await trial. This is a legal requirement. If they were not held, they could escape and disappear. The former generals were in charge of national security. Naturally, if a prime minister is blown up in a large scale pre-meditated explosion during their term time, they, being supposedly in charge of national security, are understandably going to be suspected. Don't worry. I know very well that you guys are supportive of these generals.

    November 28, 2008

  • Sami

    None of the Arab countries have free elections but if there were and a Christian ran for president he should be elected based on his qualifications not his sect.We know of few instances where qualified Christians held important posts in the Arabic world.1-Michael Aflak of Syria(the founder of Baath party), Tarik Azeez of Iraq, Botros Ghali of Egypt , George Habash of Palestine etc.And no I do not agree with you on the sect of the Lebanese president, if i had a choice between Berri and Sami Jumail, trust me Berri would be the Choice, we do not need more kids running Lebanon.Finally, i dont refuse to understand our system i refuse to neither accept it nor call it democratic.

    November 26, 2008

  • le phenicien

    SAMI - You refuse to understand our unique internal consensual coexistence witch our democracy is based on ! We are in a very complexed Middle East ! Would the Arab States accept the reciprocity and let a non Muslim Christian become President in their countries ? I dont think so . Besides Lebanon is and will remain the only country in the ME with a Christian " Maronite " on its head and there is nothing you can do about that . Every 10 or 15 years you have new demands ! those days are over with Khaddam and Hariri ! I can assure you SAMI that the President will get back his stolen prérogatives in TAEF soon after 2009 / No hard feelings my dear compatriote ! That's life in our beautiful Lebanon and that's how WE intend to keep it .

    November 26, 2008

  • Sami

    One cant but wonder as to why would any Lebanese fight along the Palestinians against his fellow Lebanese.This fight wasnt Palestinian against Lebanese, nor was it a religious war.It was a war by the oppressed against the oppressor.It is a well known fact that most of the left parties that fought the ruling sect were themselves Christians, such as Elias Atallah, PSSP different heads, George Habash, George Hawi.Very few parties had a Muslim head which was a reflection of the sectarian domination of positions of power.The advent of Amal/Hizeballah changed dramatically this formula which made some so desperate they are calling for federation or confederation.

    November 25, 2008

  • Sami

    Again, i agree with Voltaire, who should change his name to Einstein.The 4 generals put a gun to Hariri's head and ordered him to increase his fortune from 2 billion$ to 16 thru corruption.But when he refused to be corrupt they pulled the trigger.Hollywood should call you ya Einstein.

    November 25, 2008

  • le phenicien

    Voltaire - For your information there is nothing called " former Generals " as you and your friends like to call them and GMA !! A General remains a General all his life wether you like it or not . So GMA and the 4 " innocent " Generals are GENERALS are did not wait for you or for March 14 to obtain the Grade of general . Have some respect for your army and its high ranking officers .

    November 25, 2008

  • Voltaire

    The four former generals are legally held under suspicion of collaborating in a politically motivated murder. It is perfectly within International law (and so it should be) to detain those awaiting trial if they are under suspicion for serious offence. It would be ludicrous to grant them free-movement in a country with no effective border control and a state whose security instituions are still weak. If these generals had not been detained to await trial, there would be no doubting their attempt to disappear into hiding. Given the circumstances of their political closeness to the Syrian regime it would have been easy for them to have fled from further investigation and a call to trial in an international court. It is for this reason that these four former generals are held. The UN are not in error in keeping these former generals held if they await trial for serious offence. These former generals are not prisoners of conscience. Lebanon is not democratic in every sense. Inde

    November 25, 2008

  • Danton

    IF you people would like to talk about the 4 detained generals, the first and foremost detail you should remember about them is that these generals were oppressors of democracy in every sense of the concept. They worked soley to protect the status-quo of the Assad-represented regime and the annex of corruption which was implanted in Lebanon. They were all part of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence-police-state torture apparatus that was implanted by the Syrian regime during its occupation of Lebanon. They held a gun to every politician's head, blackmailing them to participate in their corrupt dealings: "Particiapte or we will kill you". And they made it their task to track down and elliminate every free-thinking individual who dared to speak out against their despotic rule. And you know what. The Assad regime has been attempting to do this still. Why do think Zuhair al Sadeek is not coming to Lebanon? It's because he fears he will be hunted down and killed by some Syrian regi

    November 25, 2008

  • Sami

    Le Phenicien,The Palestinian presence did not cause the civil war, it helped it become a reality, it was coming sooner than later due to the inequality caused by the rulers.The Muslims in General were deprived of basic services and rights, the national Lebanese army thru its maktab tani was ruling us with an iron hand.The PLO armed both Shiaa and Sunnis and some Christians and Druze against these inequalities.Everyone should have the right to become a president.Otherwise do not call our system a democracy and put down other systems.One current inequality is the Litani project.

    November 24, 2008

  • le phenicien

    Sami-Sami-Sami ... The Shiia are not asking for any thing but for respect and equal rights . Dont put words in their mouth please , cose you are giving a pretext to March 14 in this crucial moment before the elections with your demands like the Presidency for one of them ...! Lebanon is based on understanding between its multiple sects since the independance ! and that understanding led us to civil wars due to the Palestinian presence in our country witch took part on the side with the Sunnas against all the other Lebanese !!! that led us to TAEF and its accords where the President's Prérogatives were stripped and stolen by Khadam and Hariri the 2 Sunnas in favour of the PM ...

    November 24, 2008

  • Sami

    Voltaire, please correct your information, the 4 general are held without any accusations/trial/conviction, they are held based on testimony given by Zouhair Al Seddeek who refuses to come to Lebanon.Democracy affords equal opportunities to all in order to reach their political goals, no Shiaa can ever even dream of becoming a president of Lebanon, is this democracy??Shirin, when you move to Israel i will move to Syria, it is my honor to be Syrian as you were Syrian prior to Sycs/Pycos.

    November 22, 2008

  • le phenicien

    Why dont you talk or write about freedom in Lebanese jails ? Why do we always have to look elsewhere and not inside our own house ? Why do we always criticize others and never ourselves ? When are we going to stop giving lessons to others and start putting some order and democracy in our country like it use to be before TAEF ...!!!??? Can Mr Ghaddar tell me what are the 4 Generals doing in jail for over 2 years and on what charges are they held and kept in jail ?? Dont you call their arrest a political one ?????

    November 22, 2008

  • Voltaire

    The former generals you speak of Sami are justifiably held under suspicion of intentionally collaborating first hand in the politically motivated murder of a former PM. They are due to be trialled in a UN court. The evidence gathered for their arrest was found by UN investigation.

    November 21, 2008

  • Voltaire

    The four generals you mention, Sami, are held because they are accused of collaborating in the politically motivaged murder of a former Prime Minister as well as already being found guilty of severe corruption with damaging implications, all under UN probe, investiation and international court. Is Lebanon a democracy you ask. In many ways yes, but it is a question of maintaining these democratic elements which is a prerequisite to progressing Lebanon's democratic functioning. State institutions should be respected, including the army, which should be the only armed presence in the republic. Electoral freedom without political intimidation/militia death threats should also be a priority. It is an undeniable fact that the current regime in Syria is a totalitarian regime with no political freedoms whatsoever, and it has and still does activly work to ruin democratic freedom and civil society in Lebanon as a means of securing 1.its re-newed entry into the country to once again cre

    November 21, 2008

  • shirin

    sami why dont u move to syria, you are SYRIAN

    November 20, 2008

  • Sami

    Correction:according to the articles logic then Lebanon should release prisoners of conscience, unless you assert that Lebanon is a democracy.

    November 19, 2008

  • Sami

    The four generals in the Lebanese prisons are prisoners of what?What are they accused of and by what courts?Based on your article no one should be talking to Lebanon till it release prisoners of conscience too.

    November 19, 2008

  • diala

    Elias Khoury is the example of a true intellectual. Not only in his views, readings, and unbiased criticism, but especially because he translates his words into fearless actions. A rare case in the Arab world

    November 19, 2008