The state security court jailed Haitham Qutaish to four years, his brother, actor Muhannad Qutaish, to three years, and journalist Yahya al-Aws to serve two years behind bars, said the Association of Human Rights on Sunday.
 
They were accused of "transmitting to a foreign country information which should have stayed secret", of "writing articles banned by the government and damaging to Syria and its ties with a foreign state", and "publishing false information", the association said in a statement.

It said the three young men were in contact with an electronic newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates. They were arrested almost two years ago, in September and October 2002.

The association called for the sentences to be overturned and for the men to be released along with all other political prisoners in Syria.

Human Rights

Accusations were, "transmitting to a foreign country information which should have stayed secret", of "writing articles banned by the government and damaging to Syria and its ties with a foreign state", and "publishing false information"

Association of Human Rights statement

Last month, London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International had called for the release of the trio "held solely for peaceful exercise of their right to free expression over the Internet."

Its appeal came days before the state security court, whose verdicts can not be appealed, jailed an Internet user for two and a half years for e-mailing a dissident newsletter.

Abd al-Rahman Shaguri, arrested in February 2003 for e-mailing a newsletter put out by a banned website (Levant News), was imprisoned for "disseminating false information".

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said he had been held in Saidnaya prison near Damascus, was allegedly tortured by Syrian military intelligence and was not being allowed any legal representation.