Syria's Independence: Free Anwar al-Bunni

After the Syria's independence became totalitarian tyranny; citizens became refugees in their homeland; the state became a ranch thanks to the revolution's accomplishments, many brave Syrians, like Aref Dalila, Kamal Labawani, Anwar al-Bunni and many others, are struggling for Syria's democratic independence and Syrians' rights and freedoms.

A tribute to all those heroes on our lost independence's anniversary. We, Syrians, totally appreciate their struggle and we are so proud of them.

Support the Syrian Human Rights Community: Call for the Release of Anwar al-Bunni


The situation of human rights defenders in Syria has deteriorated over the past year. Peaceful human rights activists have been subjected to increasing repression. The May 2006 "Beirut-Damascus, Damascus-Beirut" Declaration that called for better relations between Lebanon and Syria was followed by the largest crackdown on civil society since the repression of the "Damascus Spring" in 2001. A dozen human rights activists and intellectuals who co-signed the Declaration were arrested by the Syrian authorities. Three of the signatories, writer and journalist Michel Kilo, human rights lawyer and activist Anwar al-Bunni, and pro-democracy dissident Mahmud Issa are still detained.

Numerous other human rights defenders and peaceful civil society activists remain in prison. Among them is the prominent academic and pro-democracy advocate, Aref Dalilah, who was arrested as part of the crackdown on the "Damascus Spring" in 2001 and continues to serve a 10-year prison sentence for criticizing the government. In 2006, he suffered a severe stroke and was reportedly denied proper medical care by the prison authorities. Activist Kamal al-Labwani, who has been detained since November 2005 upon his return from a trip abroad during which he met with European and American officials, has been repeatedly beaten by the prison guards and other inmates. Al-Labwani has been placed in solitary confinement since the beginning of last week. He too is reportedly suffering from health problems and has been denied appropriate medical treatment.

The year 2006 was also marked by the increasing use of travel restrictions on human rights defenders, preventing them from pursuing their legitimate activities. Among those who were barred from traveling last summer are film director and civil society activist Omar Amiralay; Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies; and Suhair al-Atassi, founder and president of the Jamal al-Atassi Forum for Democratic Dialogue. These three and many others have been added to a long list of activists, artists and intellectuals unable to travel freely.

In addition, to further stifle the activities of the human right community, the Syrian authorities have also systematically denied human rights organizations permission to register as legally recognized non-governmental organizations. For example, the Ministry of Social Affairs has denied registration to the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria (CDF), the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria and the National Organization for Human Rights.

Since his arrest on May 17, 2006, Anwar al-Bunni has been detained in harsh conditions at Adra Prison near Damascus. Last January, al-Bunni was subjected to physical abuse by prison guards who beat him and forcibly shaved his hair.

On October 9, 2006, an investigating magistrate charged al-Bunni with "disseminating false information likely to undermine the morale of the nation in wartime," "slandering and insulting state institutions," and "joining an international group without the government's authorization." The first two charges are related to al-Bunni's denunciation of the use of torture by security forces and his calls for democracy and reform in Syria. The latter charge is connected to the formation of a center for human rights training in Syria funded by the European Union. Al-Bunni briefly ran the center that was closed down by the authorities in March 2006 before it even started its activities.

Although two of the charges brought against al-Bunni were recently dropped as a result of a general amnesty, he is still being prosecuted under articles 286 and 285 of the Syrian Penal Code for "disseminating false information likely to undermine the morale of the nation in wartime". He could face up to 5 years in prison if found guilty.

Al-Bunni is being tried before the Damascus Criminal Court. In a final hearing that took place on April 3, 2007, al-Bunni and his lawyers presented their closing arguments. The verdict is scheduled to be delivered on April 24, 2007.

On January 11, 2006, Anwar al-Bunni's brother, Akram al-Bunni, also a well-known human rights defender, was prevented from leaving Syria by the security services. He was about to fly to Brussels to attend meetings with European Union officials on the situation of human rights in Syria. Syrian officials have not given any explanation for this arbitrary travel restriction.

Anwar al-Bunni is a founding member of the Syrian Human Rights Association and the Freedoms Center for the Defense of Journalists and Journalism in Syria, and a member of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience. He is a leading figure of the Syrian human rights and democracy movement and has devoted his legal career to defending those in Syria who face persecution for the non-violent expression of their opinions, including intellectuals and human rights activists arrested as part of the crackdown on the "Damascus Spring."

For years, al-Bunni has been persistently harassed by the Syrian authorities to punish him for his human rights activities and deter him from representing prisoners of conscience as clients. Mr. al-Bunni and his family have received constant threats and have been under permanent surveillance by the security forces. The authorities have also orchestrated defamation campaigns against him to dissuade potential clients from seeking his services. Instead of protecting one of its members, the Bar Association in Damascus, under the control of Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party, has taken part in the harassment campaign against al-Bunni by fabricating disciplinary charges against him resulting in repeated suspensions from practicing law and threats of disbarment.

Despite the persistent attempts of the authorities to obstruct his work, al-Bunni has never stopped his struggle for human rights and democracy in Syria and is currently using his trial before the Damascus Criminal Court as a platform to denounce the government's human rights practices. In his response to the charges brought against him, Anwar al-Bunni told the Court that disclosing the use of torture by state authorities does not undermine the morale of the nation. He declared:
What really undermines the morale of the nation, weakens it and even threatens its very existence are those who practice torture in prisons and detention centers, those who detain political opponents and sentence them to death only for their political affiliation, those who ban newspapers for denouncing corruption... those who abduct people from their homes who subsequently disappear for years and years, those who violate the independence of the judiciary, interfere in its work, block the implementation of its decisions and use the law and special courts to terrorize the society, and those who jail prisoners of conscience in extremely harsh conditions and torture them.i
And he adds:

Furthermore, do you believe, or does the one who fabricated this charge expect that people's minds are stupid to the extent of believing that this trial and my detention for more that ten months is due to this charge. You know and I know and people know that there are other reasons for this detention and trial that everyone knows.ii

i Memorandum submitted by Anwar al-Bunni to the First Criminal Court of Damascus on 11/19/2006; for the full text see: http://www.rezgar.com/debat/show.art.asp?aid=81437

ii Memorandum submitted by Anwar al-Bunni to the First Criminal Court of Damascus on 03/20/2007; for the full text see: http://www.thisissyria.net/2007/03/23/syriatoday/05.html


Labels: , ,

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home