News

October 29, 2008 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Outrage over 36-month prison sentences passed on three journalists


Reporters Without Borders is deeply outraged by the sentences of two and a half years in prison which a Damascus court passed today on three Syrian journalists and nine other pro-democracy activists - all members of the Damascus Declaration National Council. “These dissidents, who have been gagged by a subservient judicial system, need the support of all those who are committed to freedom of opinion and expression,” the organisation said.
Reporters Without Borders is deeply outraged by the sentences of two and a half years in prison which a Damascus court passed today on three Syrian journalists and nine other pro-democracy activists - all members of the Damascus Declaration National Council. The press freedom organisation calls on the international community, including the European Union, whose presidency is currently held by France, to take a greater interest in the fate of prisoners of conscience in Syria. “These disgraceful sentences were to be expected, given Syria's appalling human rights record, but they are nonetheless shocking,”Reporters Without Borders said. “The international community cannot continue treating this regime with kid gloves if it persecutes its journalists and civil society in such a brutal manner. These dissidents, who have been gagged by a subservient judicial system, need the support of all those who are committed to freedom of opinion and expression.” The twelve Damascus Declaration members sentenced today were Fida'a Al-Horani (a doctor), Ali Abdallah (a journalist), Akram Al-Bunni (a journalist), Riyad Seif (an industrialist and former parliamentarian), Fayez Sara (a journalist), Ahmad Taama (a doctor), Jabr Al-Shufi (a civil servant), Walid Al-Bunni (a doctor), Yasser Al-Iti (a doctor), Mohammed Hajji Darwish (a civil servant), Marwan Al-Aach (an engineer) and Tala Abu-Dan (a painter and sculptor). After the president of the Damascus court of assizes announced the sentences, the 12 defendants joined hands and shouted pro-democracy slogans. Their lawyers have 30 days to file appeals. Khalil Maatouk, a member of their legal defence team, condemned what he called a “political trial.” Signed in October 2005 by opposition representatives and leading members of civil society, the Damascus Declaration is a call for change based on political freedom, respect for ethnic and religious minorities, separation of powers and free expression. More than 160 members of the Damascus Declaration National Council met in the Syrian capital on 1 December 2007 to elect a secretariat and to reaffirm their commitment to democratic reform at the end of a “peaceful and progressive process.” Around 40 of its members were arrested in the course of the following five or six months, and 12 of them - the 12 sentenced today - were eventually charged with publishing false information with the aim of harming the state, membership of a secret organisation designed to destabilise the state and inciting ethnic and racial tension. Syria is now the Middle East's second largest prison for the media, after Iran, with a total four journalists and five cyber-dissidents currently detained. It was ranked 159th out of 173 countries in the world press freedom index which Reporters Without Borders issued on 22 October. To assist news media who are interested, Reporters Without Borders has prepared a short report on the Damascus Declaration detainees with a caricature by Algerian cartoonist Ali Dilem. Download this document
-------------- Three journalists await court's verdict Twelve Syrian pro-democracy activists will today learn the court's verdict in the prosecution brought against them by the government. Charged with publishing false information with the aim of harming the state, membership of a secret organisation designed to destabilise the state and inciting ethnic and racial tension, they face up to 10 years in prison. They are all members of the Damascus Declaration National Council and - except for Fida Al-Horani, who is in Duma women's prison - they have all been held in Adra prison, north of Damascus, since last December or January. Their chances of being freed at the end of the trial are nil. Their fate was sealed the day they were arrested. In Syria, judicial proceedings are mere formalities for the government and the security apparatus it depends on. Signed in October 2005 by opposition representatives and leading members of civil society, the Damascus Declaration is a call for change based on political freedom, respect for ethnic and religious minorities, separation of powers and free expression. More than 160 members of the Damascus Declaration National Council met in the Syrian capital on 1 December 2007 to choose a secretariat and to reaffirm their commitment to democratic reform at the end of a “peaceful and progressive process.” The 12 detainees who will be in court today were all at that meeting. Their trial began on 30 July. Three of the 12 defendants are independent journalists as well as human rights activists. They are: Ali Abdallah, 58, who was arrested on 17 December 2007. He appeared to be in poor physical shape at the first hearing, showing signs of having been beaten and tortured while in detention. He is suffering from a loss of hearing in his left ear but has not yet been allowed to see a specialist. Fayez Sara, 58, a contributor to Arabic-language publications such as Assafir, Al-Hayat and Al-Arab Al-Yom. He was arrested on 3 January not just for participating in the Damascus Declaration National Council meeting but also for reporting the wave of arrests of fellow participants on satellite TV stations. Akram Al-Bunni, 51, a writer and columnist who was arrested on 12 December 2007. A committed human rights activists, he often wrote about the Syrian regime's arbitrary behaviour for the Arabic-language press.