Monday, February 14, 2011

SYRIA: continuous detention of journalist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is seriously concerned about the continuous detention of journalist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah, whose two-and-a-half year sentence for his dissident writings and peaceful opposition activities expired in June 2010. Abdullah now faces new charges of ‘disseminating false information' for an article he wrote in prison. He appeared before a Military Court in Damascus on 7 February 2011 and pleaded not guilty to the charges. PEN International considers that journalist ‘Ali al-Abdullah is targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a party, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

According to PEN's information, Abdullah has been kept in prison since the expiry of his two-and-a-half year sentence on 16 June 2010. His continuous detention stems from the publication of an article in late 2009 in which he criticised Syrian-Iranian relations. He appeared before a Military Court on 7 February 2011 on charges of ‘disseminating false information'. During the court session, Abdullah told the court that his statements did not "constitute a crime for which he should be tried because he has a natural right to his opinion".

‘Ali al-Abdullah was arrested on 16 December 2007 and sentenced on 29 October 2008 to two-and-half years in prison for "disseminating 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" for his dissident writings and peaceful opposition activities. Abdullah was arrested with his son Muhammad ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah following their participation in a peaceful demonstration outside the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) on 22 March 2007. Another of ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah's sons, Omar, has been detained since 18 March 2006 for his involvement in a pro-democracy youth movement. Their arrests are part of an ongoing crackdown on government opponents who are being targeted for their peaceful opposition activities.

‘Ali al-‘Abdullah was previously arrested in May 2005 and detained for over five months for his opposition activities.

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