4.30.2007

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the latest issue of Arab Reform Bulletin (April 2007) Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Headlines:

  • Egypt: Referendum Turnout Contested; Shura Elections Coming
  • Jordan: Press Law Amendments
  • Syria: Activists' Trials Postponed
  • Qatar: Municipal Elections
  • Kuwait: New Government
  • UAE: New Labor Law
  • Algeria: Court Acquits Journalists
  • Libya: Call for Free Press
  • Morocco: Draft Press Law under Discussion
  • Upcoming Political Events

Contents:

Egypt: Referendum Turnout Contested; Shura Elections Coming

Civil society and opposition groups are questioning reported voter turnout for a March 26 popular referendum on amendments to thirty-four articles of the 1970 Constitution. According to Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei, turnout was 27 percent of Egypt's 35 million registered voters with 76 percent of participants voting yes. Independent monitors place the turnout figure closer to 5 percent. Opposition groups boycotted the referendum on the amendments, which took place only a week after the amendments were approved by parliament in a single vote. The Judges Club accused the government of widespread fraud, including ballot box stuffing and vote buying. Click here for excerpts from the amendments in English and a full text in Arabic.

Parties in Egypt are gearing up for elections in June to fill eighty-eight seats in the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council. An additional forty-four members of the 264- seat council will be appointed by presidential decree. Opposition groups have boycotted p revious Shura elections, but on April 14 the Muslim Brotherhood stated it intended to field twenty candidates. Elections will be held on a single day and supervised by an electoral commission rather than by judges, in compliance with the newly amended Article 88 of the constitution.

Following up on an amendment of Article 179 giving the president the authority to remand civilians suspected of terrorism offenses for trial in military courts, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the government to amend the military tribunals law to allow defendants the right of appeal. The proposed Supreme Military Appeals Court will be comprised of a board of five military judges headed by the chairman of the Military Justice Authority.

Approximately thirty members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested between April 12 and April 16, including students, businessmen, and leaders of the group, as well as blogger Abdul Monem Mahmoud.


Jordan: Press Law Amendments

Jordan's lower house of parliament endorsed on March 21 changes to the controversial press and publications law, abolishing clauses allowing imprisonment of journalists. The lower house had approved the draft law on March 4 but the upper house returned the law, recommending that imprisonment clauses be cancelled. Parliament replaced the provision with greater fines. Journalists operating in the kingdom could face fines of up to 28,000 dinars (US $40,000) for violations relating to defaming religion, offending religious prophets, inciting sectarian strife or racism, slandering individuals, and spreading false information or rumors. Click here for details.

King Abdullah announced on March 2 that parliamentary elections will take place by the end of 2007, ending speculation that he would delay elections until next year. Parliament's four-year term ends in April.


Syria: Activists' Trials Postponed

The trial of political rights activist Kamal al-Labwani was postponed again on April 10, provoking charges that Syria was keeping the 30-month detainee in a legal limbo. The First Damascus Criminal Court adjourned the case to May because a new judge was appointed. Labwani, detained in November 2005 upon his return from a two-month trip to Europe and the United States where he met with government officials, journalists, and human rights organizations, has been charged with weakening national sentiment, damaging the nation's image, spreading false or exaggerated information, and communicating with a foreign country to incite aggression against Syria. Click here for details. Two other political activists in Syria, Michel Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni, have been detained since May 2006 with repeated postponements of their trials after they signed the Beirut-Damascus joint statement. Kilo faces charges punishable by at least three years in prison including weakening national sentiment, spreading false information, and inciting religious and racial dissension. Click here for details.


Qatar: Municipal Elections

Elections to Qatar' s twenty-nine-member Central Municipal Council, an advisory body created in 1999 that issue s recommendations on municipal issues, were held on April 1. One hundred and twenty-five candidate s ran and 51 percent of the 28,000 eligible voters cast ballots, compared to 32 percent who participated in the 2003 election. The election is seen as a precursor to parliamentary elections for the country's first national legislature, expected later this year. Qatar's constitution, approved in an April 2003 popular referendum, creates a legislative body with thirty members elected by universal suffrage and fifteen appointed by the emir. Elections were initially planned for mid-2005 but postponed due to alleged problems with the voter lists. Currently Qatar only has an appointed council with a limited advisory role.


Kuwait: New Government

Kuwait' s emir Sh e ikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah approved a new sixteen-member cabinet on March 25, after the previous government resigned on March 4 in a move observers believe was aimed at avoiding a no-confidence motion against Health Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al Abdullah Al Sabah. Ten members of parliament presented the motion in February over suspected financial and administrative breaches at the ministry. The reshuffle replaced the minister, but k ey portfolios — foreign affairs, defense, interior, labor and social affairs, and oil — remain unchanged. They are headed by members of the ruling Sabah family.


UAE: New Labor Law

The UAE's Labor Ministry proposed a draft labor law (Arabic text of law) which according to a March 25 report by Human Rights Watch, falls short of international standards for workers' rights. The report calls for the law to be revised to protect workers' rights to organize, bargain collectively and strike, and to cover excluded groups such as domestic workers. In addition, the draft law includes a number of provisions that discriminate against women workers.


Algeria: Court Acquits Journalists

An Algiers appeals court ruled on April 4 to give two journalists suspended sentences of six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (about US $ 720), effectively concluding the libel suit brought by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi in October 2006 against Ali Fodil, the editor of the Arabic-language daily Ech-Chourouk, and Naila Berrahal, one of his journalists, over reports published two months earlier which allegedly “attacked his person, the Libyan state and the security of the Algerian and Libyan states.” Click here for details.

The State Security court sentenced eight members of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to jail terms of up to 10 years, according to a March 5 statement by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The members were arrested in early 2004 and charged with having ties with the group and possession of banned books and tapes. Syrian authorities did not confirm the sentences.


Libya: Call for Free Press

Libyan journalists and writers inside and outside the country issued a statement (Arabic) on April 2 urging the Libyan government to allow free and privately-owned press, after the government announced the formation of a committee to study the status of the Libyan press. Click here for details.


Morocco: Draft Press Law under Discussion

A draft press law under discussion among journalists and the government would keep criminal penalties in place for journalists charged with violating bans against offending the monarchy, Islam, and state institutions such as the army and judiciary. The new draft law also stipulates the creation of a National Press Council whose 15 members would be appointed by the king and journalists. Click here for details.


Upcoming Political Events

  • Syria: Legislative Elections, April 22, 2007; Presidential Referendum, May 2007; Municipal Elections, August 2007.
  • Algeria: Legislative Elections, May 17, 2007.
  • Egypt: Shura Council Elections, June 2007.
  • Jordan: Municipal Elections, July 2007 ; Legislative Elections, 2007 (date to be determined).
  • Morocco: Legislative Elections, September 2007.
  • Oman: Shura Council Elections, October 2007.
  • Qatar: Legislative Elections, 2007 (date to be determined).


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4.27.2007

Totalitarian Baath and Free Anwar al-Bunni

The totalitarian entity of al-Baath imposing tyranny on Syria has crossed all lines.

Human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni is a Syrian hero and will always stay so to the Syrian people.

Free Anwar al-Bunni


Sentence against Anwar al-Bunni deals another blow to human rights in Syria

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PRESS RELEASE
24 April 2007

Amnesty International condemns the harsh sentence handed down today on human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, following an unfair trial that appeared to be politically driven and during which he was not given full access to his lawyers.

The Damascus Criminal Court sentenced Anwar al-Bunni to five years in jail on the charge of “spreading false information harmful to the state”. He has consistently denied this charge, which seems to be linked to his legitimate work in defence of human rights.

"This deals another blow to human rights and human rights activists in Syria who have been the target of an intimidation campaign by the authorities," said Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. "The Syrian authorities should show more commitment to human rights and should cease locking up peaceful critics and advocates of reform."

Anwar Al-Bunni was arrested along with 10 other people for signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, a petition calling for the normalisation of relations between Syria and Lebanon. Since his arrest on 17 May 2006, he has been detained at ‘Adra prison, near Damascus, where he has been subjected to bad treatment.

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Syria: Release and drop charges against human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Public Statement
23 April 2007

Amnesty International today repeated its call to the Syrian authorities to release immediately Anwar al-Bunni when his trial before the Damascus Criminal Court concludes tomorrow, 24 April 2007. The court is due to deliver its verdict at the end of a trial in which Anwar al-Bunni is charged with “spreading false information harmful to the state”. He denies the charge but if convicted could receive a sentence of up to three years of imprisonment.

Amnesty International considers Anwar al-Bunni to be a prisoner of conscience who has been tried on a charge that is politically-motivated and was brought against him apparently because of his activities to defend human rights in Syria.

Of some 300 Syrian and Lebanese signatories to a petition, the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, that calls for the normalisation of relations between Syria and Lebanon, 10 were arrested by the Syrian authorities in May last year. The two others still detained and on trial are Michel Kilo and Mahmoud ‘Issa who are being tried separately from him. Amnesty International considers all three individuals to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for the peaceful expression of their non-violent ideas and consequently calls for their immediate and unconditional release and for all charges against them to be dropped.

Anwar al-Bunni, Head of the Damascus Centre for Legal Studies and of a European Union-funded human rights centre that was closed down by the authorities shortly after opening in March 2006, has been detained at ‘Adra prison, near Damascus, since his arrest on 17 May 2006. He has not been allowed to meet privately with his lawyers and while detained has suffered beatings and been subjected to degrading treatment (see AI, Public Statement, Syria: Beatings of PoCs must end, officials who have perpetrated or facilitated abuses must be prosecuted, MDE 24/008/2007, 15 February 2007). In addition, the Minister for Social Affairs and Labour has called for him to be stripped of his citizenship.

Nonetheless, Anwar al-Bunni has continued to champion human rights from behind bars, including last week sending a letter to President Bashar al-Assad calling for him to set up an investigation into prison conditions, noting that the six thousand prisoners in ‘Adra are routinely subjected to beatings, insults and terror, and prevented from leaving their cells, watching TV and listening to the radio.

Background
For many years Anwar al-Bunni has taken up cases of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners, and spoken out on human rights issues in the country. As an apparent consequence of this work to promote and protect human rights he has been subjected to various forms of harassment including being summoned to meetings with the security forces, facing disciplinary measures from the Damascus Bar Association, and being prevented from travel abroad.

Trials of possible political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syria, whether before the Criminal, Military, State Security of Field Military Courts, invariably fall short of international standards for fair trials. They lack independence, are widely perceived to be influenced by the security forces and the executive, and defendants have restricted access to their lawyers. Reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment of detainees are almost never investigated by the courts, including when defendants claim that “confessions” they made were extracted under duress.

Among other Amnesty International documents on the persecution of the signatories to the Beirut-Damascus Declaration see: Syria: Another wave of arrests of human rights defenders and civil society activists, MDE 24/038/2006, 17 May 2006; Syria: Dismissal of state employees for expressing opinions violates international human rights, MDE 24/045/2006, 21 June 2006; Syria: Beatings of PoCs must end, officials who have perpetrated or facilitated abuses must be prosecuted, MDE 24/008/2007, 15 February 2007; Syria: Unfair trials and ill-treatment in detention of peaceful “Beirut-Damascus Declaration” petitioners, MDE 24/022/2007, 11 April 2007.

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See: The Beirut-Damascus Declaration

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4.24.2007

The Beirut-Damascus Declaration

What do Syrians think about Lebanon? And how does the Baath regime take it?

This is a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute on the Beirut-Damascus Declaration:


Wave of Arrests of Syrian Intellectuals Following the Beirut-Damascus Declaration

By H. Varulkar.

July 11, 2006
memri.org

Introduction

On May 12, 2006, the Lebanese media and websites close to the Syrian opposition published a document titled "The Beirut-Damascus Declaration/Damascus-Beirut Declaration." The declaration, which calls for improving Syrian-Lebanese relations, was signed by several hundred Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals. It depicts the deterioration in relations between the two countries in recent months, and sets out, in 10 points, measures that must be taken in order to rectify these relations "from the root." The first point calls on Syria to recognize Lebanon as an independent state by demarcating the border between the two countries and establishing mutual diplomatic representation between them. [1]

The Syrian authorities' hostile response to the declaration was manifested in scathing articles in the government daily newspapers critical of the declaration and of the intellectuals who signed it, as well as in a wave of arrests of some of these intellectuals. Human rights organizations reported on the harsh conditions and ill-treatment to which the intellectuals were being subjected in prison, and on the deleterious effects on their health. There were also reports that 17 Syrian officials had been removed from their posts because they had signed the declaration.

At the same time, there was much criticism, both within Syria and outside it, of the Syrian regime and of the arrests. Some Syrian oppositionist journalists claimed that the attempt "to stifle the voices" by means of the arrests would only exacerbate the anger of the intellectuals and "add fuel to the fire." Various Syrian human rights activists and organizations called on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and on the international community to intervene in the events in Syria and to bring about the release of all political prisoners in Syria.

The following are excerpts from the text the declaration and from the reactions to it as well as reports from the unfolding events:

I. The Declaration

The text of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration/Damascus-Beirut Declaration reads: [2] "The increasing deterioration in Lebanese-Syrian relations is threatening to create a deep rift between the two neighboring countries and the two brother peoples. This deterioration has worsened since [the term] of Lebanese President Emil Lahoud was extended - [which constituted] a violation of the spirit of the Lebanese constitution and contempt for the opinion of the Lebanese majority. This deterioration has further worsened following the crimes of political assassination that have led to the deaths or wounding of politicians, party members, media personnel, and citizens - and first and foremost, the assassination of [former Lebanese Prime Minister ] Rafiq Al-Hariri."

In the declaration, the intellectuals go on to describe how their great sense of concern about the dangerous deterioration in relations between the countries had led them to meet and to discuss how to rectify the relations between these countries "from the root." They set out 10 points for the improvement of these relations.

The first point calls for "respecting and strengthening the sovereignty and independence of both Syria and Lebanon... The Syrian participants are demanding absolute Syrian recognition of Lebanon's independence, and the abandonment of all reservations [regarding this independence] and all ambiguous talk in this matter... All of us together [i.e. both the Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals] maintain that the first steps in this direction should be manifested by the final demarcation of the borders and by diplomatic representation between the two countries."

The second point stresses Syria's and Lebanon's right to regain their occupied territories, by all possible means. This will come "after Syria officially declares that the Shab'a Farms are Lebanese, under the U.N. resolution."

In the declaration, the intellectuals go on to demand respect for and the development of freedoms and human rights; the establishment of a state ruled by law and having institutions; and free and fair elections. They also demand regime change, and that Lebanon take control of all its territories. They call to establish democracy-based regimes in both countries, which, they say, will ensure that relations of equality and peace between the two countries will take root. They condemn political assassinations as a criminal means of dealing with oppositionists and of resolving political conflicts, and stress the need to facilitate the work of the international investigative committee on Al-Hariri's assassination.

The declaration condemns all forms of discrimination and violence against Syrian laborers in Lebanon, and demands that the Lebanese authorities punish offenders. It states: "Due to the problems caused to the two countries, and particularly due to the problems caused by the Syrian labor force in Lebanon... laws must be enacted to arrange for the labor force's [free] passage [between Syria and Lebanon]."

In another point of the declaration, the intellectuals demand that the Syrian authorities release all Lebanese prisoners and detainees in the Syrian prisons, and reveal the fate of the Lebanese who are missing.

The final point of the declaration states that "joint action to rectify relations between the countries... requires a reexamination of all the documents and agreements signed between the governments of the two countries..." [3]

II. Syrian Intellectuals Arrested Following the Publication of the Declaration

The Syrian regime was quick to condemn the declaration. Knowledgeable Syrian sources accused the Syrian signatories of having "damaged national Syrian interests in several respects." According to them, "the declaration [accuses] Syria of assassinating [former] Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, even before the international investigative committee has finished [its work]. Also, the declaration preceded [U.N.] Security Council Resolution No. l680, which calls for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon - while [the intellectuals] know Syria's position [on this matter], which is not opposed in principle but is calling [first] for the creation of a positive atmosphere." [4]

Syria's reaction to the declaration was not limited to mere statements, but was also expressed in a wave of arrests of some of the Syrian intellectuals who had signed the declaration. On May 15, 2006, three days after the declaration was issued, Syrian intellectual Michel Kilo, who is active in the Committees for Reviving the Civil Society and heads Hurriyat - The National Center for Defense of the Press and Journalists' Freedom in Syria, was arrested. 'Ammar Al-Qurabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said that the Syrian authorities had arrested Kilo because he had signed the declaration. [5]

The reformist website www.metransparent.com reported that the investigating judge in Kilo's case, Raghid Tutunji, had "issued an arrest warrant for Kilo and accused him of violating Sections 191, 192, 276, 287, 288, and 307 [of the Syrian penal code, which refer to] punishments for offenses that are not considered criminal, and also Section 285 [which refers to criminal offenses]. These sections include acts such as: weakening national sentiment, arousing extremist ethnic or religious sentiment, publishing false or exaggerated news that might harm the honor or status of the state, condemning or insulting the president, the courts, the authorities, the military, [the public administration], or an official discharging public governance [in the framework] of his duty or his work." The website also reported that the severity of the punishment set out in these sections of the penal code ranged from detention to execution. [6]

A few days later, there were reports that 13 more Syrian signatories had been arrested in Syria, including: attorney Anwar Al-Bunni, Hurriyat Center spokesman and an active defender of freedom and human rights; Mahmoud Mer'i, secretary of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria; and Nidal Darwish, member of the presidential council of the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria. [7] The London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that "the investigating judge... accused them of the same offenses of which he had accused the columnist Michel Kilo..." [8]

A June 20, 2006 announcement by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said that "Syrian Prime Minister Naji Al-'Utri published, on June 14, 2006, a decision... according to which 17 officials would be removed from their posts, without any reason being given." The announcement said further that "the assumption is that these [officials] were fired against the backdrop of their signing of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, or because of the support that they had expressed [for the declaration]..." It should be noted that the fired officials had worked at the Syrian Health Ministry, Education Ministry, Oil Ministry, Information Ministry, and Agriculture Ministry. [9]

*The Detainees' Deteriorating Health

On May 23, the Syrian website Akhbar Al-Sharq reported that a group of attorneys had paid a visit to the detainees who had signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, and a number of detained human rights activists, at the central 'Adra prison near Damascus. The report noted that "Anwar Al-Bunni... announced that he had been on a hunger strike since May 17, 2006 [the day he was arrested] in protest against his arrest. The attorneys also noted that at least two of the 10 detainees had been beaten after their arrest. The detainees said that their detention conditions were bad, as they were being held with criminals but not given the [rights] that criminal prisoners have." They also said that they were "not given a bed, a mattress, or blankets, and therefore had to sleep on the bare floor with no covering." [10]

The Syrian Human Rights Network announced that it had received "information that Anwar Al-Bunni, who is on hunger strike in prison, and also an additional number of recently arrested political prisoners, were suffering from deterioration in their health... [There is a danger] that Al-Bunni will completely collapse due to the hunger strike..." [11]

III. Syrian Government Press Criticizes the Beirut-Damascus Declaration

In addition to its arrests of signatories, the Syrian response to the Beirut-Damascus Declaration came also in the form of articles in the Syrian government press attacking the text of the declaration and its signatories.

The following are the main points of these articles:

*Teshreen: "Syrian and Lebanese Intellectuals Join the Evil Attack on Syria"

In an editorial, the Syrian government daily Teshreen wrote: "We are obliged, in times of distress and of overcoming Syria's pressures, to rebuke a number of Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals who have forgotten all Syria's victims and sacrifices for the sake of Lebanon, and have joined... the evil and open attack led by Bush's American administration against Syria. Perhaps we are entitled [to do more] than just rebuke these [intellectuals], who have not only ignored and forgotten what Syria has done for Lebanon in its times of distress and at the height of its tragedies, but have [even] tried - oddly - to blame Syria for the deterioration of the situation between the two countries...

"How odd it is, too, that these Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals today issue a declaration in which they hint that Syria is threatening Lebanon - and forget Israel, its destructive role, and its unceasing aggression. Does exonerating Israel and the Bush administration of blame for everything that has happened and is happening, and [instead] blaming Syria [for this], serve the interest of the two brother peoples? Why [did they issue this declaration] precisely at this time - while the American administration is applying its malicious pressure on the Security Council so that it will pass a resolution demanding that Syria establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon? [This, even though] a resolution of this kind is against the U.N. Charter and the international laws. Also, such a decision is unprecedented in international relations and constitutes gross interference in the of the countries' [internal] affairs.

"Nevertheless, we still think that a true nationalist intellectual understands the dimensions of the evil attack to which Syria is being subjected, and stands in the trenches defending Damascus's positions and national and pan-Arab policy." [12]

*The E.U. is "Sticking its Nose into Syria's Internal Affairs"

"Why does the E.U. - or, more precisely, some of the influential forces in it - want, for strictly egotistical reasons, to stick its nose into Syria's internal affairs, and violate Syrian national sovereignty? Why do these highly influential European forces want to cause damage to Syria, its people, and its history in this vulgar way? There is no justification for this, and we do not think that they are more concerned than we are about democracy, human rights, and the international conventions...

"Excuse me, Mr. Selfish European who lies in wait [for every opportunity]: Syria does not need your interference. It knows you and knows what you want [to achieve] by these shameful acts. Syria also knows how to defend its national unity and the interests of its sons. The day will come when you will stand and apologize to the Syrian people for what you have done, and for your service to Israel - the enemy of Syria, Lebanon, and the Arabs in general. You will doubtless be disappointed this time as well - because Syria will not bargain over its interests and its national and pan-Arab principles. It will not disdain [even] a single grain of its occupied lands, and difficult situations will only strengthen and immunize it..." [13]

IV. Syrian Journalists and Human Rights Organizations: Criticism of Arrests, Calls for Prisoners' Release

Syrian journalists and democracy and human rights organizations published articles and announcements scathingly critical of the Syrian regime and of the arrests of the intellectuals. They also called on the international community to intervene in order to bring about the release of all political prisoners in Syria.

The following are the main points of their arguments:

*Journalist Hakam Al-Baba: The Arrest of Democracy and Human Rights Activists in Syria is "Tarnishing Syria's Image"

Following Michel Kilo's arrest, Syrian journalist Hakam Al-Baba published a highly critical op-ed in which he referred to what he calls the surrealism in Syria - where democracy activists are arrested and tried easily, but an intelligence officer (i.e. General Rostom Ghazala) accused of assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri is defended "to the death" by the Syrian regime: "What is taking place in Syria today is the implementation in practice of the ideas of surrealism... because [Syria sets] impossible conditions for an intelligence officer such as Rostom Ghazala to appear before the international investigative committee [on Al-Hariri's assassination] and drives a hard bargain... to ensure [that he has] a comfortable interrogation in Vienna... while Michel Kilo is held, with no rights, at a branch of [Syrian] intelligence, with his only attorney being his relatives and friends...

"Isn't it surrealistic that Michel Kilo has spent more than half his life engaging in public affairs, yet all the wealth that he has accumulated stands at a few years in jail, long nights of fear, and accusations of treachery and of being an agent... while every director-general or minister appointed for a period of less than a year leaves [office owning] land, cars, villas, and funds in banks in locations from the equator to the North Pole?!

"Every day, the Syrian State Security Court sentences a democracy activist... They judge this one on charges of attempting to change the constitution by force, and they judge that one on charges of conspiring with a hostile country. This one is imprisoned on charges of rebellion against the socialist regime, and that one is imprisoned on charges of tarnishing Syria's image outside the country. Is there any tarnishing more shocking to Syria's image than the arrests and procedures of Syria's intelligence?!

"My heart is with Michel Kilo, who is subject to what every free journalist [in Syria] is subject, and who defends the journalists' freedom and independence. Kilo's arrest underlines how the Syria of 2006 has become the homeland of the surrealist movement - but in the political sphere!" [14]

*Kurdish-Syrian Publicist: The Attempt to "Stifle the Voices" Will Only "Add Fuel to the Fire"

In an op-ed, Kurdish-Syrian journalist Ibrahim Al-Yousef argued that Syria's arrests and attempt to "stifle the voices" will only increase the anger among the people and "would add fuel to the fire": "The illegal manner of the arrests requires everyone with a living conscience, and every free and honorable pen, to express solidarity with [the detainees]. This is for the sake of [attaining] a Syria with no oppressing arrests, and of making possible the longed-for democratic [internal] dialogue...

"What is certain is that if some of the security apparatuses think that, with these summonses and arrests, they can rein in those who express their opinion and can divert attention from what is happening all around, they are undoubtedly mistaken... [On the contrary:] Every new arrest will directly serve the opposite [purpose], because it will increase the anger in the [people's] souls, and will be nothing but a continuation of the apparatus of errors [that substitutes for] an attempt [by the Syrian regime] to end all the errors and the shameful violations...

"Indeed, the attempt to stifle the voices instead of talking [to them], to sow fear and horror in the souls [of the people], and to accuse the other of treason instead of listening to him... is an attempt whose failure has already been proven. [Yet] some of the 'wise guys' still think that this is the most effective prescription [for attaining] calm, and do not know that this way they are [actually] 'adding fuel to the fire' and firing resentment and anger in the souls around them. This is because [such arrests], which in the past were a magic solution, are no longer so... The arrests being made in this worrying manner will dismantle national unity... [and this] is the opposite of what the apparatus of the arrests seeks to achieve. All this and more bring us, without a doubt, to the necessity of reexamining this illegal and immoral activity, so as to preserve the honor of the best of Syria's sons..." [15]

*Syrian Democracy Activist Calls on the International Community to Act to Release Syria's Political Prisoners

The Syrian website Akhbar Al-Sharq reported that Mamoun Al-Houmsi, a former Syrian MP who was one of the Damascus Spring detainees, [16] had launched an international campaign to bring about the release of all of Syria's political prisoners. Al-Houmsi said: "At least 13 people were arrested during this wave [of arrests] - but there are hundreds of political prisoners, and we want them all released, as it is forbidden to imprison someone only because he expressed his opinion..."

Al-Houmsi also sent "a call to the free people of the world": "In these difficult days, when the Syrian regime has escalated its repression, its human rights violations, and [its behavior that is against] all the international conventions and practices, the signed agreements, and the Syrian constitution which guarantees freedom of expression by peaceful means, I left Syria bearing the call for the freedom of the [Syrian] prisoners [of conscience]. These people, who have devoted themselves and their families to freedom, are suffering oppression, injustice, and horror for the sake of [bearing] the message of freedom and of resistance to tyranny and corruption, and so that the Syrian people will enjoy the best of its land, equally and justly...

"In light of this difficult situation, the reason for which is the Syrian regime's disregard and ridicule of the world's calls to release the prisoners [of conscience], I came from 'Damascus Spring' to call on the international community to shoulder its responsibility and to effectively apply pressure... since [any delay] in taking crystal-clear stands will only increase the hatred that the [Syrian] regime permits toward these stands - and this hatred will be among the main causes of the extremism for which we will be the first to pay."

Al-Houmsi demanded that the European Parliament and the E.U. "apply pressure and employ more aggressive and effective stands, to save the lives of the prisoners [of conscience]..." [17]

*Temporary Committee of the Damascus Declaration: Kilo's Arrest Underlines the Regime's Tyranny

The Temporary Committee of the Damascus Declaration [18] issued an announcement harshly condemning the arrests, which it said were aimed at intimidating the Syrian people: "[Michel Kilo's arrest] by the Syrian authorities underlines the tyrannical nature of the regime, and of its way of repressing the people's rights and freedoms as well as democratic social and political activity aimed both at obtaining the broadest popular participation in determining the fate of the country and at extricating the country from the dire straits in which it is found because of the regime...

"[Kilo's] arrest came in the framework of a planned attack by the regime against the democratic intellectuals and against the political and social organizations. It was in order to sow fear, and to bring Syria back to the periods of silence [in Syria] - which remind Syrians of the atmosphere that prevailed in the 1980s, and the violent events [of that time]... We, in the capacity of [signatories to] the Damascus Declaration, condemn this oppressive and unjust arrest, and condemn the harm to the freedoms of all. We demand the release [of Kilo] and of all the political prisoners in Syria's prisons." [19]

*The National Salvation Front in Syria Calls for Intervention by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan

The National Salvation Front in Syria, the Syrian opposition group headed by former Syrian Vice President Abd Al-Halim Khaddam and Muslim Brotherhood in Syria leader 'Ali Sadr Al-Din Al-Bayanouni, issued an announcement condemning the arrests and calling on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to intervene to stop the repression by the Syrian regime. The announcement read: "The Syrian security apparatuses, at the instruction of the country's president Bashar Al-Assad, are conducting an extensive wave of arrests of Syrian citizens. [These arrests have] included many of those who express their opinions, and human rights activists, who have demanded that democracy be implemented, that human rights be upheld, and that there be an end to the suffering of the Syrian people that has continued for more than four decades. [The arrests are being carried out] using the Emergency Law and the judicial system which has been corrupted by the regime and turned into a security apparatus. The oppressive measures being taken by the Syrian regime, by order of the president, are against all the international conventions to which Syria is a signatory, and particularly to those concerning human rights, the spread of democracy, and the establishment of justice and equality among citizens." [20]

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[1] During the National Dialogue meetings in Lebanon, which began in March, 2006, the leaders of all the Lebanese parties and factions decided to demarcate Lebanon's border with Syria and also to establish diplomatic relations with it. Also, on May 17, 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution No. 1680, which demands that Syria comply with the Lebanese government's request regarding border demarcation and diplomatic representation. Syria claims that it has no objection to these in principle, but that it was still too early to discuss diplomatic relations, and that such relations would be formed under the appropriate circumstances and the right atmosphere. On April 7, 2006, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'alam stated, "It is too early to talk about establishing diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon, and the contacts and trade relations between the two countries are developed [to a level that] makes the embassies unnecessary." Teshreen (Syria), May 18, 2006; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 7, 2006.

[2] There are several conflicting reports regarding the number of signatories on the Beirut-Damascus Declaration. Some reports say 274, while others say 500.

[3] http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/05/12/releases/05.html, May 12, 2006.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), May 21, 2006.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 16, 2006.

[6] According to Section 285 of Syria's Penal Code, "anyone who harms the honor of the state and the national sentiment, and also anyone who, in time of war or in time when war is expected to break out, carries out acts aimed at weakening the national sentiment, will be punished by imprisonment for a certain period." http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/05/23/syriatoday/01.html, May 23, 2006.

[7] The other intellectuals arrested were: Khalil Hussein, top official in the Kurdish Future (Al-Mustaqbal) movement in Syria; Mahmoud 'Issa, who was imprisoned from 1992-2000 for belonging to the Communist Labor Party; and other human rights activists: Akram Al-Bunni, Khaled Khalifa, Suleiman Al-Shammar, Kamal Sheikho, Abbas Abbas, Ghaleb 'Amer, Safwan Tayfour, and Muhammad Mahfouz, who is affiliated with the Hurriyat Center. It should be noted that on May 23, 2006, the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar reported that Khaled Khalifa, Abbas Abbas, and Kamal Sheikho were released. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 19, 2006; Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 18, 2006; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 18, 2006; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 18. 2006.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 22, 2006.

[9] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), June 20, 2006.

[10] The Akhbar Al-Sharq website is a non-governmental Syrian site operated by the Levant Institute in London, which is directed by Ubeida Nahhas, who is close to Muslim Brotherhood in Syria leader 'Ali Sadr Al-Din Al-Bayanouni. http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/05/23/syriatoday/01.html, May 23, 2006.

[11] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 30, 2005.

[12] Teshreen (Syria), May 17, 2006.

[13] Teshreen (Syria), May 21, 2006.

[14] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 16, 2006.

[15] http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/05/18/articles/01.html, May 18, 2006.

[16] "Damascus Spring" is a term for the political awakening that took place in Syria with Bashar Al-Assad's assumption of power, in June 2000. In the course of one year, many public bodies promoting democracy and civil society were established across Syria, including the Jamal Al-Atasi Forum, which in January 2001 declared itself an NGO for democratic discourse. In September 2000, a statement by 99 Syrian intellectuals called for the abolition of the state of emergency in Syria, the release of political prisoners, and the advancement of political and civil reforms. In July 2001, the establishment of the Syrian Human Rights Association was declared, and attorney Haithem Al-Maleh was elected chairman. Expectations for reform, however, began to fade when in August 2001 the Syrian authorities launched a series of arrests of reformist activists, and sentenced them to years in prison.

[17] http://www.thisissyria.net/2006/06/14/syriatoday/07.html, June 14, 2006.

[18] In October 2005, an alliance among Syrian parties, forces, and oppositionists signed the "Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change." The document stresses the need for democratic change in Syria and for the end of the military regime that has controlled the Syrian people for over 30 years. The declaration calls, inter alia, for the establishment of a democratic government in Syria, the elimination of Emergency Law, the release of all political prisoners, and a solution to the Kurdish problem. The signatories included the Committees for Reviving Civil Society, the Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria, the National Democratic Union in Syria, the Syrian Committee for Human Rights, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.

[19] http://www.metransparent.com/texts/Khaddam_bayanouni_condemn_arrest_of_michel_kilo.htm, May 15, 2006.

[20] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 19, 2006.


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4.19.2007

Egypt Democracy Watch

Here are the recent news and developments concerning the political life, reform and democratic movement in Egypt gathered from the Egypt Monitor.

Previous "Egypt Democracy Watch" on Middle East Policy:

December 2006

October 2006

July 2006

Egypt's Constitutional Amendments


Egypt Democracy Watch:
(Covers the latest four months)

Source: The Egypt Monitor

3500 Lawyers Trained to Monitor Elections

The National Council of Human Rights and the Egyptian Coalition for the Support of Democracy are training 3500 lawyers to monitor elections. The training is taking place throughout 2007 and aims at preparing monitors for the March 26 referendum on the constitutional amendments as well as the Shura Council partial elections due later this year.


Low Voter Turnout On the Referendum on the Constitution

On March 26, 2007 Egyptians voted on the referendum for amending 34 articles of the Constitution. According to the Egyptian authority the amendments were approved by 75 percent of the voters with a 27 percent participation. However, civil society organizations that monitored the referendum claim that the voter turnout did not exceed 3 percent of registered voters.


Courts Confirm Freezing Assets of Muslim Bortherhood Members

The Cairo Criminal Court confirmed the Attorney General's decision to freeze the assets of 29 prominent Members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and their families on February 28, 2007. The assets to be worth 1.8 Billion Egyption Pounds -- around U$ 315 million.


Wafd Party Asks the Nation to Reject the Constitutional Amendments

The Higher Committee of the Wafd party has officially rejected the constitutional amendments prepared by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The party maintains that the changes will not be conducive to more freedom and that they tend to be a setback to democracy. The party vowed to coordinate its efforts with all opposition forces in opposing the changes.


Secretary General of the Lawyer Syndicate Opposes Constitutional Amendments

Ahmed Seif-El -Islam Al-Banna, secretary general of the Lawyer Syndicate, expressed his opposition to the constitutional amendments. According to Al-Banna the amendments will suppress political liberties and will not put Egypt on the path of democracy. Al-Banna is a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the son of Hassan Al-Banna- the founder of the MB in the 1920s.


Opposition Forces in parliament Reject Constitutional Changes

On March 12, 2007, all opposition parties and movements represented in parliament held a press conference in the headquarter of the Wafd party in which they officially opposed the constitutional amendments. The parties and movements represented were the liberal Wafd Party, the leftist Tagammu, the Arab nationalist Karam party, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Independent MPs. Mahmoud Abaza, the Wafd leader, read a statement in their name.


Security Forces Crushes Demonstartion Against Constitutional Amendments

On March 15, the security forces crushed the first main demonstration against the constitutional amendments. The protesters included activists from Kefaya as well all opposition movements and parties. The security forces arrested dozens of protesters and prevented hundred from reaching central Cairo. The protesters were demonstrating against the proposed constitutional amendments considering them not reflecting the hope of the Egyptian people in drafting a democratic constitution.


Opposition Calls for the Boycott of the Referendum on Constitution

All opposition parties and movements called for the boycott of the referendum on the constitutional amendments. The opposition maintains that the regime ignored all their demands on the constitutional amendments, including limiting the terms of the president, constitutional guarantees for free and fair elections and not to have an anti-terrorist law that would be harsher than the current emergency law. The opposition considers that these amendments betray the regime's promises for reforms.


Authorities Release Kefaya Protesters

The security forces released Kefaya activists who were under arrest on March 27,2007. Some activists were arrested shortly before the referendum on the constitution and were kept inside trucks in the desert near Cairo. Some protesters complained about the precarious sanitary conditions of their detention inside trucks.


Foreign History Curriculum banned from Foreign School

The ministry of education decided to ban the teaching of history from foreign curriculum in foreign schools operating in Egypt. The ministry considers that history should be thought according to the Egyptian curriculum to preserve the national identity. The decision was taken after the ministry realized that a foreign school history class was teaching that the pyramids were built by Hebrews.


Controversy Over Muslim Head Scarf

Comments made by Farouk Hosni, the veteran minister of culture, created uproar in the Egyptian parliament when he qualified the Muslim headscarf as being regressive. Hosni made the remarks while talking to a journalist, stating that previous generations of Egyptian women did not wear the headscarf and went to university. Members of parliaments affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling National Democratic party joined forces in attacking the minister for his remarks and called on the minister to explain his comments in parliament. Hosni refused to come to parliament or to go to his office for a week until MP's apologize for their verbal attacks. Hosni ended up going to parliament and agreed that the ministry of culture would set up a committee for religious culture- it is not clear what will be the impact of this committee on the activities of the ministry of culture, many Egyptian intellectuals considered that such a committee is the cornerstone of theocratic regimes.


Members of the European Parliaments Meet with Muslim Brotherhood MPs

On November 22, a delegation of European Parliament concluded their visit to Egypt by meeting with members of parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The meeting took place in the MB headquarter in the Cairo district of Manial and discussions focused on the difficulties encountered by the MB to get legal recognition and function like other political parties.


Pharmacists Protest Against Treatment by Security Forces

On November 23, more than 10 000 pharmacists protested against bad treatment of pharmacists by security forces. The rally was part of the Pharmacist's Syndicate general assembly meeting. The Pharmacists threatened to go on strike if the police continues harassing them and mistreating them in police stations. Pharmacists qualified interference of the police in their trade as "illegal raids" to force them to change their position regarding the Pharmacist's syndicate refusal to sell state owned Egyptian drugs companies to foreign and Israeli investors.


No Change on Article 77 of the Constitution

According to the Wafd party newspapers, an undisclosed source from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) declared that the policy secretariat, led by Gamal Mubarak, is exerting pressures on NDP members not to ask for amending Article 77 of the constitution. In its current form, Article 77 states that there is no limitations to presidential terms. Reformers wish to see the Article amended to make it illegal for presidents to stay for more than two terms in office.


Government Report on the Deteriration of Education

A report of the National Council of Education issued a report stating that university education reached a high degree of deterioration in Egypt. The report claims that university graduates are undereducated and do not meet academic standards of modern education. Further, it stressed that free education became an empty slogan as many university students rely on private tutors to be able to acquire knowledge. The reports also states that the Egyptian government spends 743 US dollars per university student per year, around 1/10 of what developing countries spend and 1/50 of what developed countries spend on education.


Justice Minister: No to Cutting Subsidies on Judges Clubs

In an attempt to ease the tensions between Egypt's Judges and the executive, Mamdouh Marei, the minister of Justice, declared that there will be no cut in the government subsidies for the Judges Clubs (JC). He qualified attempts at pressuring the Judges using financial means as being mere rumors and that the executive branch is supportive of Egypt Judges. The Judges Club acts as a syndicate for the Egypt's Judges and have branches in all of Egypt's 26 provinces. The JC is in confrontation with the regime as the Judges call for the total independence of the judiciary.


First Woman Editor in Chief of an Opposition Newspaper

Farida Nakkash was appointed editor in chief of the Ahali newspaper, media organ of the "socialist" Tagammu party. Nakkash is a renowned activist and a fierce defender of women's rights. She is a journalist by training and a founding member of the Tagammu party in 1976. Nakkash declared that the newspaper will undergo many changes as to improve the main socialist newspaper in Egypt.


Muslim Brotherhood States that it has no Militia

Dr Mohamed Habib, first deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), declared the MB does not have a militia and does not aim to have one. He added that there are no training camps for MB members and that MB members are not even trained in martial arts. The statement came as a reaction to a newspaper report linking some violent activities in the university of al-Azhar students dormitory to the MB. Dr Habib said that the students acted on their own and that the MB rejects violent acts by students. However, Dr Habib reiterated students right to peaceful demonstrations and legal means to challenge the university administration.


Ayman Nour Starts a Hunger Strike

Ayman Nour, founder of al-Ghad- Tomorrow- party started a hunger strike on December 5. Nour is protesting against bad treatment by the authorities and the luck of medical support. Nour also issued a statement addressed to human rights organization in which he exposed the authorities violation of his constitutional and legal rights.


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4.17.2007

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

http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Bunni2

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

http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Bunni2

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4.16.2007

Free Kamal Labawani

Kamal Labawani: a hero from Syria

Kamal Labawani is still a captive because of his struggle for freedom, democracy, dignity and independence (self-determination) of the Syrian people.

Human Rights Watch reminds the world of his case and asks for his immediate release:


Government Should Free Kamal al-Labwani

Human Rights Watch

(Cairo, April 7, 2007) – Syria should end the trial of human rights activist Kamal al-Labwani by releasing him and dismissing the politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. Pending Labwani’s release, the Syrian authorities should also take immediate steps to improve his conditions of detention.

Labwani is due back in court on April 10 when the First Damascus Criminal Court is expected to issue its verdict. Syrian security forces arrested Labwani on November 8, 2005 upon his return from a two-month trip to Europe and the United States where he met with government officials, journalists, and human rights organizations. He also appeared on Al-Mustaqilla and Al-Hurra television, calling upon the Syrian government to respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.

“Labwani is on trial for his political views,” said Fadi Al-Qadi, Middle East advocate at Human Rights Watch. “His only crime is that he called for peaceful democratic change in the way Syria is governed.”

The General Prosecutor’s office initially charged Labwani with “weakening national sentiment,” “inciting sectarian strife,” “damaging the nation’s image,” and “spreading false or exaggerated information.” However, the head of the office of National Security sent a letter on November 17, 2005 to the Minister of Justice asking him to add the charge of “communicating with a foreign country and inciting it to initiate aggression against Syria.” This charge carries with it a potential life sentence with hard labor, and could lead to the death penalty if the foreign country is deemed to have initiated aggression. On March 12, 2006, the prosecutor added this new and more serious charge.

During their defense submission, Labwani’s lawyers argued that their client was being prosecuted for the peaceful expression of his opinions. They also countered the accusation that Labwani was “inciting aggression against Syria” by referring to almost 30 segments from the televised interviews on Al-Mustaqilla and Al-Hurra, where Labwani directly opposed the use of aggression against Syria.

“Labwani’s lawyers have made a robust defense, but we fear the verdict may be politically predetermined,” Al-Qadi said.

Syria has a long record of prosecuting political activists for peacefully expressing their opinions. Already in 2002, the State Security Court sentenced Labwani to three years in prison on charges of “inciting rebellion, spreading false information and weakening national unity” after he had participated in political reform discussions.

“Syria’s prosecution of Labwani and other political activists violates not only international human rights law, but also Syria’s own constitution,” Al-Qadi said.

Article 38 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to “freely and openly express his views in words, in writing, and through all other means of expression” and to “participate in supervision and constructive criticism in a manner that safeguards the soundness of the domestic and nationalist structure and strengthens the socialist system.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria is a state party, guarantees that: “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” and, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.”

For the last few weeks Labwani has also been held in degrading and potentially inhuman conditions of detention. On March 21, 2007, two days after Labwani submitted his defense in which he criticized the proceedings against him, prison officials moved him from a shared cell to a dirty solitary cell where he reportedly stayed until April 5, when he was moved back to the shared cell. Recent visitors to Labwani reported that he looked “very tired and yellow” and that he had lost about 10 kilos. During his solitary detention, he was denied access to soap and has consequently contracted skin diseases.

This is not the first time that Labwani has been the victim of abuse while in detention. Since the onset of his detention, Labwani has been held in a prison cell with convicted criminals. On November 1, 2006, prison guards stood by as one of Labwani’s cellmates verbally and physically assaulted him. Immediately after the incident, Labwani’s lawyers filed a complaint with the prison authorities requesting that Labwani be relocated to a different cell. But prison authorities refused to accede to the request or take any redress against his attacker.

“Syrian authorities should immediately improve the conditions of detention for Labwani and all imprisoned political activists,” Al-Qadi said. “They shouldn’t be exposed to abuse from prison officials or other prisoners.”

Article 10 of the ICCPR requires states to guarantee that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” and that “accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons.”

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4.14.2007

Memo for International Tribunal for Lebanon

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has handed over to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a memorandum urging the world body to take measures to create the international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk said Saniora's memo, which was presented to U.N. special coordinator in Lebanon Geir Pederson late Tuesday, was accompanied by a letter updating Ban on the latest developments over the tribunal issue in Lebanon.

Lebanese media said the memo contained the text of a second petition signed by 70 lawmakers asking the U.N. to help set up the court.

Previously, the parliamentary majority handed a petition to the United Nations requesting that the world body establish an international tribunal on the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.

Addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it requested that "all alternative measures" be taken by the Security Council to establish the tribunal.

It reads:

Memorandum for H.E. Ban Ki Moon
Secretary General of the United Nations

We would like to thank you for the efforts that you are exerting as the Head of the United Nations to help Lebanon regain its sovereignty and independence, and attain international justice. We, the members of the Lebanese Parliament who represent the absolute majority in the Parliament and were elected by the Lebanese people in democratic elections that took place under the supervision of international observers, would like to submit the following memorandum:

Since, on February 14, 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri along with MP Bassel Fuleihan and others fell victim to an assassination crime as a result of an explosion that led to the destruction of their whole convoy;

Since, on February 15, 2005, the Security Council issued a statement calling on the Lebanese government to bring to justice the perpetrators who committed, organized and sponsored this heinous terrorist act.

Since the Fact-Finding Mission which was dispatched to Lebanon to investigate the causes, circumstances and consequences of the crime recommended on March 24, 2005, establishing an international investigation commission to investigate and to grant it executive authorities;

Since the Security Council adopted resolution 1595 on April 7, 2005 which established an International Investigation Commission into the assassination of Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri which was classified by the resolution as a "terrorist act". This Resolution granted the commission wide ranging authority to conduct investigations in the circumstances surrounding the crime and with all the individuals and officials that the committee deems they have any connection with its mission. The Security Council also adopted Resolutions 1636 dated 31 October 2005, and Resolution 1644 dated 15 December 2005 related to this crime under Chapter Seven;

Since the investigation commission is still pursuing its mission in addition to the added responsibility of assisting the Lebanese authorities in investigating the crimes that took place as of 1/10/2004, and after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. These crimes claimed the lives of political leaders, members of parliament, intellectuals and journalists;

Since the Lebanese Cabinet which convened and was headed by the President of the Republic asked the Ministry of Justice to carry out negotiations with the United Nations to establish a Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try those who are accused of committing these crimes;

Since the Lebanese judicial delegation, following extensive negotiations, had reached an agreement on a draft project of instruments (Statute and agreement) to establish a tribunal of an international character and its basic arrangements.

Since the Council of Ministers ratified the international draft convention regarding the establishment and statute of the tribunal;

Whereas the President of the Republic refused to send the draft convention to the Parliament for ratification, claiming that the government has lost its constitutionality and became nonexistent; the President announced that he considers himself not bound by any constitutional time limits, and refusing to accept any correspondence with the government, and considering any act coming from the government as unconstitutional and nonexistent;

Whereas this position of the president contradicts the constitutional rules which defines exclusively the cases in which the government can be considered resigned; The Constitution does not mention the case where ministers representing a sect resign, unless the government loses more than one third of its members as stated in its formation decree. This position, which falls outside the bounds of all constitutional rules, aims to impede the executive authorities in its entirety, and to paralyze the country, pushing it into a constitutional void, and placing Lebanon in a dangerous situation that threatens civil peace, in a way unprecedented in the history of democratic regimes;

Whereas the Lebanese Government notified the Presidency of the Republic of its decision to approve the international convention, which creates the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and its basic bylaws. And after the refusal of the Presidency of the Republic to receive the decree or the demand for reviewing it, according to Article 56 of the Constitution, and after the expiration of the 15 days time limit without promulgating the decree or returning it to the Council of Ministers as required; The Council of Ministers reconvened and insisted on its first decision that it is "legally operative and must be promulgated", according to Article 56 of the Constitution;

Whereas the Lebanese Government and the United Nations signed the international convention concerning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon;

Whereas the Government sent the decree to the Parliament, but the Presidency of the Parliament refused to receive it, claiming that it was not signed by the President of the Republic, which contradicts Article 56 of the Constitution which stipulates the possibility of promulgating a decree without the signature of the President, and considering it legally operative, after the expiration of the 15 days time limit from the date the decision or the draft decree was sent to the Presidency of the Republic, without signing or returning it;

Considering the refusal of the Parliament Speaker to convene the Parliament;

And in order to avoid the total paralysis of the country, especially the damage that will result from Lebanon's refusal to ratify the convention concerning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Therefore,

In view of the position of the President of the Republic, whose mandate was extended in contravention of UNSCR 1559, and he who continues in his attempt to obstruct the constitutional prerogatives of the legitimate government of Lebanon;

In view of the President of the Republic's refusal then to open the extraordinary session of the Parliament, according to the Constitution clauses, despite the demands of the absolute majority of the Parliament Members;

In view of the Speaker of the Parliament's refusal to accept the transmission of the draft law, which entitles the Lebanese Government to ratify the convention it signed with the UN, despite the start of the Parliament's normal session.

Whereas these positions constitute a deliberate obstruction of the functions of our Constitutional institutions, which aims to stop the establishment of the International Tribunal, as stated in UNSC Resolutions and the Lebanese Government decision, and signed by both parties, and obstructs the possibility of ratifying this convention according to the internal constitutional procedures in Lebanon;

Whereas these acts contradict the democratic rules and principles of justice as stated and guaranteed by the Lebanese Constitution and the United Nations convention are against the Human Rights Declaration;

In view of this situation, we call upon you to take all alternative measures, stated by the UN convention, which will guarantee the establishment of the International Tribunal that was adopted by the UN Security Council, in order to attain justice, enhance civil peace and protect international peace and justice.

(Naharnet-agencies)

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Related posts:

- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Chances of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon


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4.12.2007

News Concerning Middle East Reform

This is the news section of the latest issue of Arab Reform Bulletin (March 2007) Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Headlines:

  • Mauritania: Presidential Election
  • Egypt: Constitutional Amendments; Crackdown on Brotherhood; Blogger Sentenced
  • Kuwait: Government Resigns
  • Yemen: Islah Congress; Millennium Challenge Corporation Funding; Editors Prosecuted
  • Bahrain: Activists Released
  • Saudi Arabia: Travel Ban on Government Critics
  • Syria: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections; Activist Released; Muslim Brothers Sentenced
  • Jordan: Parliament Approves Controversial Press Law
  • Algeria: Human Rights Lawyers Trial
  • Tunisia: Court Bans Human Rights Congress
  • Upcoming Political Events


Contents:

Mauritania: Presidential Election

Two candidates will go to a runoff on March 25 in Mauritania 's first free presidential election, two years after the end of 21 years of authoritarian rule by President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya. Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi (who served in the ousted government and is supported by a coalition of 18 groups previously loyal to the regime of President Taya) received 24.79 percent of the vote in the first round and Ahmed Ould Daddah (Coalition of the Forces for Democratic Change, which won 41 of 95 seats in the November 2006 legislative elections) received 20.68 percent. None of the 19 candidates—11 independent and 8 from political parties—crossed the required 50 percent threshold.

The Military Council for Justice and Development led by Ely Ould Mohammad Vall, who staged the coup in August 2005, is due to surrender power to the winner. In June 2006, Mauritanians voted to limit the president's mandate to two five-year terms.

Initial reports from international observers declared the poll, which drew a 70 percent turnout of eligible voters, free and fair. The European Union's 80-member elections observer mission stated: “For the first time, the people have been able to vote freely, without intervention.”


Egypt: Constitutional Amendments; Crackdown on Brotherhood; Blogger Sentenced

Opposition MPs formally announced on March 13 their rejection of amendments to 34 articles of the constitution currently under discussion in the parliament. A joint statement signed by more than 100 members of the parliament's 454-seat lower house rejected the proposals on the grounds that they will limit judicial monitoring of elections and ban the formation of political parties that have a religious frame of reference. The draft amendments were approved by parliament's upper chamber, the Shura Council, on March 12 and will be presented for a single vote by the People's Assembly on March 20. Opposition members of parliament are planning to boycott that session. The ruling National Democratic Party controls the two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional amendments. If approved, the amendments will go to a nationwide referendum in April.

In a continuation of the government's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, police arrested eighteen members on March 13, ten on March 5, and seventy-three on February 15. According to the Muslim Brotherhood, those arrested were mostly members who were expected to run in the April elections for the Shura Council. Over 300 members are currently detained, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Click here for details. A court ordered a freeze on the assets of twenty-nine known financiers of the Muslim brotherhood on February 28.

Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, imprisoned since November 2006, was sentenced to four years in prison on February 22 on charges of inciting hatred of Islam and defaming the president. The case is the first in Egypt in which an Internet writer has been prosecuted for his published material. Click here for details and here for a statement by Amnesty International.

Kuwait: Government Resigns

Kuwait 's emir re-appointed Sheikh Nasser Al Muhammad Al Sabah as prime minister on March 6, after the previous government resigned on March 4 in a move observers believe was aimed at avoiding a no-confidence motion against Health Minister Sheikh Ahmed Al Abdullah Al Sabah. Ten MPs presented the motion in February over suspected financial and administrative breaches at the ministry. The vote was due to have taken place in parliament on March 5 and Sheikh Ahmad, a member of the ruling family, would have had to step down if legislators had voted against him. In December, Information Minister Muhammad Al Sanousi resigned a day before he was due to face questioning in parliament.

Yemen: Islah Congress; Millennium Challenge Corporation Funding; Editors Prosecuted

Yemen 's main opposition party Islah reelected on February 27 its ailing leader Shaikh Abdullah bin Hussein Al Ahmar for the fourth time since 1990. Under Islah's internal law, the presidency of the party is restricted to three terms, but the party's central committee made an exception. The 4,000 representatives attending the party's fourth general congress in Sanaa also elected 130 members to its Shura Coucil, including—for the first time—thirteen women. Mohammed Ali Ajlaan was elected president of the Shura Council, replacing Abdul Majid Al Zindani, who is on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of suspected supporters of terror activities. Click here for details about the congress.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation's Board of Directors reinstated on February 14 the eligibility of Yemen for participation in the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Threshold Program on the basis that the country has worked aggressively and demonstrably to improve performance on the selection criteria. Yemen was eligible for Threshold Program assistance in 2004, but the Board suspended its eligibility in November 2005. Click here for the press release. Morocco and Jordan are the only other Arab countries designated as eligible for MCA assistance so far.

Three Yemeni editors are being prosecuted on charges of defamation: Independent weekly Al Deyar Editor-in-Chief Abed Al Mahthari was charged with defaming Watani Bank for Trade and Investment; Al-Shoura.net Editor Abdelkarim Al Khaiwani was charged with publishing false information about the Defense Ministry; and independent Al Wasat Editor Jamal Amer was charged with defaming the Religious Endowment Ministry and the police. If convicted, each journalist could face up to one year in jail or a maximum fine of 10,000 riyals (U.S. $50) for each charge under the Yemeni press law. Click here for details.

Bahrain: Activists Released

Political activists Muhammad Said Al Sahlawi and Hussein Abdul Aziz Al Habshi, arrested on November 16 and sentenced to six and twelve months in jail respectively for possession of leaflets calling for the boycott of parliamentary and municipal elections, were released on February 25 reportedly based on a royal pardon from the king. The public prosecutor charged them under articles 160, 161, and 168 of the Bahraini Penal Code, which criminalize the dissemination and possession of materials that could “damage the public interest.” Click here for details.

Saudi Arabia: Travel Ban on Government Critics

Saudi Arabian authorities barred twenty-two prominent critics from foreign travel according to a February 9 letter by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to King Abdullah. The critics include Matrook Al Faleh, Abdullah Al Hamed, and Ali Al Domaini, three constitutional and political reformers arrested on March 16, 2004 for signing a petition for reform and pardoned by the king in August 2005. Click here for details. After its first significant fact-finding mission in the county that began on November 27, 2006, HRW reported numerous cases of unfair trials, prisoner abuses, labor abuses, restrictions on women's legal identity, and cases of children's detention. Click here for details.

Syria: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections; Activist Released; Muslim Brothers Sentenced

Syrian parliamentary elections will be held on April 22, as announced on March 8 by President Bashar Al Assad. Parliament is elected by popular vote from fifteen multi-seat constituencies to serve four-year terms. One hundred sixty-seven of the 250 seats are reserved for members of the National Patriotic Front, a coalition of the ruling Baath party and its six smaller allies. Opposition groups boycotted t he last elections, held March 2003, claiming the vote was undemocratic.

Secretary of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party Muhi Al Din Sheikh Aali was released on February 16 from a Political Security detention center in Damascus after being held incommunicado since December 20, 2006. Click here for more details.

The State Security court sentenced eight members of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to jail terms of up to 10 years, according to a March 5 statement by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The members were arrested in early 2004 and charged with having ties with the group and possession of banned books and tapes. Syrian authorities did not confirm the sentences.

Jordan: Parliament Approves Controversial Press Law

Jordan's parliament endorsed on March 4 controversial amendments to press legislation that retain clauses allowing imprisonment of journalists for violations relating to defaming religion, offending religious prophets, inciting sectarian strife or racism, slandering individuals, and spreading false information or rumors. Journalists operating in the kingdom could face fines of up to10,000 Jordanian dinars (U.S. $14,114) and prison terms ranging from one day up to three years. The new law also places the licensing of new publications under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The Jordan Press Association deplored the adoption of the draft law and urged the upper house of parliament, where the draft now goes for further discussion, to amend the legislation.

King Abdullah announced on March 2 that parliamentary elections will take place by the end of 2007, ending speculation that he would delay elections until next year. Parliament's four-year term ends in April.

Algeria: Human Rights Lawyers Trial

Human rights lawyers Amine Sidhoum and Hassiba Boumerdassi, on trial since August on charges of handing unauthorized documents to their clients in prison, face up to five years in prison if convicted and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 dinars (US$141 to $705). Click here for details.

On February 7, authorities banned the Truth, Peace and Conciliation seminar organized by five Algerian organizations that represent families of the thousands of disappeared persons during the civil war in the 1990s. On February 6, Algeria 's foreign minister signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearance.

Tunisia: Court Bans Human Rights Congress

A Tunisian court barred the Tunisian Human Rights League from holding a congress on February 17. The organization has been unable to hold a congress since 2005 after twenty-two members, who are also members of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party, filed suit accusing the director of violating internal rules and abusing his position. The organization's president, Mokhtar Trifi, says the government is using the case to stifle the group. A verdict in the case initially scheduled for June 2006 has been postponed twice.

The U.S. Department of State (March 1 statement) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (February 28 statement) called on the Tunisian government to free activist Muhammad Abbou jailed two years ago on charges of defamation of the judicial process and assault after publishing articles on the internet critical of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali.

The Tunisian government banned issues of two French publications, the daily Le Monde and the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur that carried articles critical of President Ben Ali by Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik. Click here for details.

Upcoming Political Events

  • Mauritania: Second Round Presidential Elections, March 25, 2007.
  • Qatar: Municipal Elections, April 1, 2007; Parliamentary Elections (Date not set)
  • Egypt: Referendum on Constitutional Amendments, April 2007; Shura Council Elections, April-May 2007.
  • Syria: Legislative Elections, April 22, 2007; Presidential Referendum, May 2007; Municipal Elections, August 2007.
  • Algeria: Legislative Elections, May 2007.
  • Morocco: Legislative Elections, September, 2007.
  • Oman: Shura Council Elections, October 2007.
  • Jordan: Legislative Elections (Date not set).

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Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles

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