Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SYRIA: journalist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah gets 18 month sentence

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International condemns the one- and- a- half year sentence handed down on 13 March 2011 to writer, journalist and activist Ali al-‘Abdullah for "harming Syria's relations with a foreign country". The sentence stemmed from an article published by Abdullah while in prison in 2009 in which he criticised Syrian-Iranian relations. PEN International considers al-Abdullah to be sentenced in violation of 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 was sentenced by a military court in Damascus on 13 March 2011. The court initially handed down a three-year sentence, but reduced the term to eighteen months. Mr 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' and ‘harming Syria's relations with a foreign country'. 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 first 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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