Syria sentences 14 activists to jail

Syrian military court has sentenced 14 human rights activists to jail for belonging to a banned group after they attended a lecture condemning the country's emergency law.

    Al-Asad freed hundreds of political prisoners in 2000

    The court in the northern province of Aleppo jailed 13 of them for three months and one for a year because it was his second offence. 

    "The 14 activists are free at the moment because the ruling is not final and can be appealed against...They will appeal against the ruling," lawyer and rights activist Anwar al-Bunni
    said on Saturday. 

    Amnesty International condemned the charges as arbitrary. It  said the military trial was unfair and called for the sentences to be dropped. 

    "The organisation once again calls on the Syrian authorities to take immediate steps to curb human rights violations...and to allow human rights activists and bodies to function freely," it said in a statement received in Beirut. 

    The 14 activists went on trial in October on charges of trying to incite factional conflict. They were arrested in August at a lecture against the Arab state's emergency law, imposed days after the country's 1963 revolution. 

    Cracking down on critics

    Syrian President Bashar al-Asad freed hundreds of political prisoners and tolerated political debates that openly criticised Syria's autocratic rule after succeeding his father in 2000. 

    But Syria later cracked down on critics, sentencing several
    dissidents to jail terms on charges such as trying to undermine the constitution and inciting insurrection. 

    Syria has, however, released seven activists jailed on similar charges less than a year after they started jail terms of three to four years, the activists said. 

    "This may be a good will gesture but they were initially tried by an extraordinary court, a military court," Bunni said. 

    Bunni said the seven were among 20 people who were charged with illegally forming a political grouping in a town near Damascus last year.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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