Syria: Punished for using the internet - Amnesty International calls for an end to Ba'athist suppression of the right to freedom of expression
WASHINGTON, March 12 -- Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience held in Syrian prisons and detention centres for exercising the right to freedom of expression.
Over the past four decades hundreds of Syrians have suffered excessive restrictions on their right to freedom of expression. The government imposes censorship on correspondence, communications and information media. 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri is just one Syrian who is suffering the affects of these measures. He is currently detained pending trial before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) on 15 March 2004. He is facing charges connected to the use of internet sites containing political information and sending articles to his friends. He was arrested on 23 February 2003 and reportedly beaten in custody before being transferred to Sednaya prison where he is said to be held without access to his family or lawyers. On the day of 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri's arrest, secret police agents were reported to have entered his house and confiscated his computer, fax machine, CDs and other computer-related items.
Added to the list of those denied their right to freedom of expression are Muhannad Koutaish, his brother Haytham, and Yahia Alous who are held in Sednaya prison having been detained for almost one and a half years for using the internet. All were reportedly arrested for sending articles to an electronic newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. They have been tried by the SSSC on charges related to "publishing false reports" which carries a prison sentence of between three months and three years. The verdict is expected to be delivered on 15 March 2004.
Internet access is carefully monitored by the authorities in Syria and unfettered access is only possible by dialling internet service providers in neighbouring countries.
Amnesty International is concerned that prisoners of conscience, 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri, Muhannad Koutaish, Haytham Koutaish and Yahia Alous, face not only prolonged detention, torture and/or other ill-treatment, but also the prospect of a grossly unfair trial. On the basis of evidence collected over the years by Amnesty International, the trials of political suspects before the SSSC invariably fall far short of international standards for fair trial. The SSSC places severe restrictions on the defendants' right to obtain effective legal representation and its verdicts are not subject to appeal before a higher tribunal. Amnesty International has also voiced concerns over the years that the SSSC appears to be neither independent nor impartial.
Over the years Amnesty International has documented evidence of opponents or suspected opponents not involved in violence who are routinely detained, harassed, tortured and, in some cases, summarily or extra-judicially executed. The organization has repeatedly expressed grave concern over the arrest and detention of hundreds of prisoners of conscience.
The State of Emergency Law established in 1963 has over the years facilitated gross human rights violations in Syria. This month saw the 41st anniversary of the imposition of State of Emergency Law - see Amnesty International's public statement: Syria: 41 years of the State of Emergency - Amnesty International reiterates its concerns over a catalogue of human rights violations, (MDE 24/016/2004, 8 March 2004). In a recent example of the suppression of the right to freedom of expression dozens of people, including human rights defenders, were arrested on 8 March when they marked the anniversary by protesting outside parliament against this law. They were all said to be released without charge on the same day.
Kurds storm Syrian embassy in Brussles
From Kurdish sources:
A demonstration took place in Sweden, where there is a large Kurdish community, a demonstration took place in memory of those lost in the massacres in Hewler (Erbil, site of 1 February bombings) and Qamishlo. Also from Sweden, the Kurdistan Democratic Party-North (PDK-Bakur), a small party, issued a statement. This press release is in Kurdish at:
It says at the beginning:
We protest the terror and massacre in Qamishlo, our brothers are not alone...
At the end:
Martyrs are immortal, long live the Kurdish people, long live democracy and the brotherhood of peoples, death to the terrorist and chauvanist regime.
The press release identifies the perpetrators of the crime as "Arab chauvanists" and supporters of Saddam. The headline given to the press release states, "KDP-North protests Arab terror in Qamishlo" but the press release seems to take pains to only implicaten Arab chauvanists and not all Arabs.
22 were murdered and about/over 100 were wounded, and the martyrs of the Qamishlo massacre were buried today.
This massacre occurred during a soccer match between "Jihad" of Qamishlo and "Fatwa" of Dera Zore (Kurdish spelling of town/city). The Arab chauvanists were chanting pro-Saddam slogans.
The Kurdish website amude.com has reported A LOT on these incidents but I cannot translate everything right now (at work). Among news items here are "In Amude 2 police were killed", "In Qamishlo police were attacked and about 15 were wounded", "In Qamishlo soldiers attacked Kurds", "Dicle and Meyda (Kurdish) bureaus in Dera Zore were burned", "Kurds in Damascus take to the streets".
Kurdistan is ON FIRE. You may have read my report on the patriotic demonstrations in various cities of Iranian-occupied Kurdistan. Now there is a popular revolt (serhildan) in western Kurdistan. The media is ignoring this just as it ignored the riots against the mullahs. I think the situation is very serious. I will let you know as I hear more
When Iraq's new democratic constitution was signed, the death warrant for tyranny in the region was signed. The Islamist terrorists' failure to bring down the first free Arab country spells disaster for the world's last remaining Ba'ath stronghold--Syria. This is a force of history, it cannot be stopped, the repression has reached a saturation point and the people are now armed with that deadly weapon of hope; all thanks to the United States of America. So, to all you leftists demonstrating in Madrid against Iraqi Freedom, to all you who marched and chanted and yelled in response to the lifting of the jackboot of Ba'athism from the necks of the Iraqi people: may you drown in the shame knowing that you have stood on the wrong side of history.
Is Bashar Assad losing control ?
This is not a riot, it is an uprising. Defense ministers and generals are not called in to deal with "riots".
The Kurds are not merely venting anger, anger is not merely "vented" in the middle east especially when there are old scores to be settled. The current spate of violence will not subside with the deaths of a hundred people here, a few Ba'ath officials there, this will end in tragedy. Northern Syria is under total lockdown, no media is allowed in, phone lines are cut; we are looking at a military quarantine...since when did a "riot" necessitate such a martial response when otherwise a few Ba'ath security officers with AK's would have been suffecient ?
From Reform Party of Syria:
Appeal for Media Coverage of Riots in Syria
Syria is experiencing an uprising in the North that is expanding to other cities as we speak. I am in contact with leaders of the opposition on the inside and there is cause for concern that this may become a major political event.
Unfortunately, the Arab media has marginalized the riots so far. RPS is embarking on a media blitz in the US to bring attention to what is happening. We appreciate all the help you can accord us. Many Syrians are afraid that if the media ignores what is happening, the Syrian Ba'ath Party will commit atrocities against our innocent civilians and democracy movements.
President, Reform Party of Syria
Letter American Kurdish community to President Bush........
Our people in Syrian Kurdistan have sacrificed greatly for the Kurdish issue in other parts of Kurdistan, specially North and south Kurdistan. Today, is the time for us all, to support our neglected people in West Kurdistan. Hevals in New York are working on a permit for a protest in front of UN. They will let us know on Monday. So, please stay tuned and get ready to go New York to show solidarity for our people.
Dear President Bush:
We are a group of Kurdish-Americans living in the state of Rhode Island. Members of our community have come from West (Syrian), South (Iraqi), East (Iranian) and North (Turkish) Kurdistan. Our members are proud citizens and grateful for your strong leadership during last 3 years of difficult times.
On Friday March 12, we received news that Syrian Ba'ath Party orchestrated-massacre taking place in the Kurdish city of Qamishly, Syrian Kurdistan. The incident started during a soccer game. Fans of the Arab team started insulting Kurds for the Iraqi Kurds cooperation with us, America. They had brought pictures of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein and chanted pro-Saddam slogans. Kurdish fans of the soccer team started chanting pro-America and pro-Kurdish slogans. Then, Arabs started attacking Kurdish fans with help of the Syrian security forces. Syrian security forces had strip-searched Kurdish fans before entering stadium but Arabs were allowed to enter the stadium with their weapons. Before the soccer game, Ba'ath thugs, portraying themselves as the fans of the Arab team, marched through the city and attacked Kurdish businesses, in front of so-called security forces.
When Kurds exited the stadium after being attacked, they were attacked by the security forces outside of the stadium, as well. As a result, more than 70 have been killed, 300 injured and over 1500 have been detained. Many of the injured did not go to hospital because of the fear of being detained by the fascist Syrian regime. Kurds know too well that those detained will be tortured, which have also been documented by Amnesty International. Kurdish cities of Qamishly ,Amude, Derik and many others have been closed to the outside. Syrian military has blockaded Kurdish cities. Syrian Information Ministry, like the Iraqi Information Ministry under the Comical Ali, have been feeding International media (through Arab satellite channels) false information because they are labeling massacre as a simple soccer stampede.
As we have become familiar, Syrian regime is not different than the former Iraqi regime. It is same Ba'athist policy, which is a secular version of Arab nationalism. This regime is also a minority in Syria (15-20% of population), like the one in Iraq. Thus, it has used oppression under father-son Assads to control the population. Specially, oppression against Kurds in Syria have been very severe. Today, suppression of the ethnic identity of 2.5 million Kurds by Syrian authorities has taken many forms. Restrictions have included: various bans on the use of the Kurdish language; refusal to register children with Kurdish names; replacement of Kurdish place names with new names in Arabic; prohibition of businesses that do not have Arabic names; not permitting Kurdish private schools; the prohibition of books other materials written in Kurdish and Arabization of hundreds of Kurdish villages. In 1962, a census was carried out where, 130,000 Kurds lost their citizenship because of regulations to size the land property, and now they became more than 350,000 Kurds. They were declared as "foreigners" and until now they have no rights for education, work, property, taking part in elections, traveling abroad, accommodation in hotels and registering marriage certificates. Arab men are allowed to marry Kurdish girls but Kurdish men are not allowed to marry Arab girls.
After seeing fall of Ba'ath party in the neighboring Iraq, one would think that Syrian authorities would respect human rights and allow people to freely express themselves. These attacks against the Kurds and continuing of allowing terrorists to infiltrate to Iraq shows that young Assad apparently has not learned anything from the former neighbor, Saddam.
Mr. President, Kurds in all four corners of Kurdistan truly believe in your vision of a democratic and plural Middle East which respects human rights. Because of this vision, Kurds stood up to the Syrian regime, like they way they did in Iraq. While Syrian thugs and so-called security forces beating Kurds, Kurds chanted, "Long Live Bush". We, Rhode Island Kurdish Americans, greatly appreciate your urgent attention to this matter. We urge you to direct Secretary Powell to take the matter to the UN and advocate for investigation of the incident by International NGOs (non-Arabs).
RI Kurdish Community
Four students arrested at demonstrations:
Ten injured during anti-syrian protest on friday in Lebanon
Voices of freedom
First pro-Democracy radio for Syria