Syria releases political activists

Syrian authorities have released eight pro-democracy activists arrested last week for reading a statement of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group at a private gathering.

    Bashar al-Assad's climb to power in 2000 had raised reform hopes

    The Syrian official new agency, Sana, quoted the Information Ministry as saying the detainees were released on Monday after questioning for "violating laws and regulations regarding the activities of some outlawed movements in Syria".

    The eight, all members of the Jamal Atassi Forum, were released at noon, but a colleague, Ali Abdullah, who had been arrested a few days before them for reading the statement, was still in custody.

    They were arrested last Tuesday.

    Human-rights activists had said that the group members were arrested because they had read a statement issued by Sadr el-Din Bayanouni, the London-exiled leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, at a private gathering.

    Activist Hassan Odat said the gathering had discussed various

    dissident political and cultural views, including the views

    of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    More like dialogue


    "We were not held in solitary confinement or otherwise

    mistreated," Odat told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.


    "It was more like a dialogue than an investigation. Our

    treatment was certainly not good, but 'reasonable.' ... But

    in the end detention is detention."


    "It was more like a dialogue than an investigation. Our

    treatment was certainly not good, but 'reasonable.' ... But

    in the end detention is detention"

    Hassan Odat,
    Syrian political activist

    Nahhar said the group was reminded by authorities while in

    custody that the Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Syria and

    that reading a statement by the group was a violation of

    that ban.


    He said Abdullah was still in custody but added: "We have

    been promised that he will be released very soon."


    In 2001, the government cracked down on so-called political salons - political gatherings held in private homes during which Syrian intellectuals discussed democratic reforms in Syria.

    The salons sprang up after President Bashar al-Assad took

    office in 2000 and began to ease the totalitarian rule of

    his late father, Hafez al-Assad, a period that came to be

    known as the Damascus Spring.

    Atassi's forum, which convenes once a month, survived the

    crackdown, but its activities remained under government




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