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Middle East
Syria frees democracy activist
Aref Dalila spent seven years in custody for calling for greater poltical freedoms.
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2008 15:47 GMT

Dalila campaigned for democracy as Bashir al-Assad, left, became president in 2000 [AFP]

Syrian authorities have released Aref Dalila, a dissident who was jailed seven years ago after calling for greater public freedoms and democracy in the single party country, according to his lawyer.

Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights said the economist and campaigner was back with his family in the port city of Latakia on Thursday after being granted a presidential pardon. 

"Aref Dalila was freed in line with a presidential pardon after having spent seven years in jail," Ammar Qurabi of the National Organisation for Human Rights told the AFP news agency.

Dalila was a leader of The Damascus Spring, a movement including intellectuals and opposition figures, which campaigned for democracy when Bashar al-Assad, Syria's current president, succeeded his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

Security forces suppressed the movement several months later and jailed its leaders.
The 68-year-old Dalila was arrested in 2001 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to change the Syrian constitution, inciting armed rebellion and spreading false information.

Thursday's release came after more than two dozen Syrian and Arab human rights groups urged Syria to free Dalila, who they said was in ailing health.

However, Qurabi said that Dalila was in good health.

France and the United States have been leading international calls to free Dalila and other secular political prisoners in Syria.

Source:
Agencies
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