The Washington Post is reporting the arrests of two associates (Saleh Qassim and Walid al-Omari) of a Saudi activist (Saud Mukhtar al-Hashemi), who was arrested at the home of lawyer Essam Basrawi recently, this week. Mimicking a rising trend in the West, the Saudi government is using the language of terrorism to arrest these people, though there is little substance behind the claim that they have been involved in violent activities. Instead, the article notes:
Hashemi and some of the other detainees had planned to announce the formation of the National Reformist Grouping, Zahrani said. He had worried about being arrested after the announcement but "didn't expect to get arrested before they went public," she said.
The day they were arrested, a petition by some of the men involved in the group was made public. It called for an elected advisory council, curbs on the powers of the Interior Ministry and a more equal distribution of the country's wealth and land.
The document criticized travel restrictions on activists, bans on public demonstrations and threats of dismissal for state employees who express opinions contrary to the government's.
Please consider creating profiles for any of these individuals under the "Saudi Arabia" section by reading the instructions here, or e-mailing more information, including photographs, to email@example.com so that they can be posted.
Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change
The Constitution, drawn up by the government of Hafez al-Assad in 1973, has defined the rules for choosing the president in Article 84 as follows:
1. Candidacy for the presidency is issued by the parliament on the basis of a proposal by the national leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, and then it is presented to the citizens for a referendum.
2. The call for a referendum is made by the Chairman of Parliament.
3. The new president is elected before the expiration of the incumbent president’s term in a period of no less than thirty days and no more than sixty days.
4. The candidate becomes president of the republic by obtaining an absolute majority of the total votes. If he does not receive the majority, Parliament nominates another candidate within one month from the date of the announcement of the results of the first referendum.
This is the basis for the administration of presidential elections whose results are controlled and guaranteed. The ruling party—which was declared to be “the leader of society and state” by Article 8 of the Constitution, and is represented by the party’s national leadership—proposes the candidate, and the Parliament, whose majority is controlled by the ruling party, nominates him. The citizens are deprived of the right to choose. This makes the President a Chairman of the ruling party, not the President of the Syrian people.
The President who is sworn in in this way does not care about the citizens’ views or their needs and desires, nor does he have an interest in realizing achievements that would guarantee their attachment to him. Not to mention that the referendum is accompanied by opulent and wasteful spending of public funds.
The President, which is being elected this way, does not care about the views of citizens and their desires and needs neither he interests in achievements that make them adherent to him. Not to mention the accompanying opulence and waste of public funds in addition to the full utilization of all governmental institutions for the implementation of this formality of election.
The first mandate of the president, regardless of how he ascended to the presidency, has shown the risks of this constitution’s rules. Despite promises of change that were guaranteed by the inaugural address and the slogans of development and modernization that were raised, the outcome of these seven years has been negative and the situation has worsened at all levels. The regime is in isolation from other Arab countries, as well as internationally. Syria is threatened by large and dangerous forces and the Golan Heights is still occupied. The estrangement between the regime and the citizens is deep since the politics of keeping society out of politics continues and popular participation in decision-making is rejected, with an almost total absence of activity on part of the constitutional institutions. Instead some forces and figures outside of these institutions control the decision-making process. The intelligence services have returned to their old oppressive methods that repress basic freedoms through arbitrary arrests, summonses, travel bans, and including the dissolution of women’s organizations and the boards of social and charitable associations as well as the loss of the judiciary’s independence. All of these are what led to the hollowing out of the republican system, the establishment of which has been considered a great achievement for the Syrian people since independence. This has also led to the rapid erosion of economic resources due to inflation, deflation, corruption, and a decline in services (education, health, sanitation, drinking water, environmental protection, etc), not to mention poverty and unemployment, declining living standards, the looting of public funds, deepening favoritism, and differentiation and discrimination between citizens resulting from the regime’s rejection to implement political reform that enshrines the separation of powers, allows for working along institutional lines , leads to the revitalization of parliament and its role in oversight and accountability, and the enshrinement of the independence of the judiciary, the opening of the door for a free press and pluralism of parties and unions that allow for free and honest competition as well as a peaceful rotation of power as an entrance to fruitful and successful economic and administrative reform.
Syrian citizens have waited throughout the first term for the promised reforms that would improve their living conditions and state services, as well as sow stability and tranquility in their lives. They have waited for democratic change that resembles what has happened in many of the countries of the world and a number of Arab countries, most recently in Mauritania. But their wait was long and unsuccessful and has led them to despair and hopelessness, not forgetting humility and the loss of dignity that results when they are coerced into voting in various ways.
The issue raised by the forthcoming referendum is that the authority ignores the political, social, and cultural changes—national and international—that no longer accept these referendums that belong to the past to a system whose time has ended and which is now a relic of the past whose black effects humanity now seeks to erase.
The forces of the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change, rejecting the continuation of these policies and condemning the regime’s adherence to them as well as its failure to change election rules and methods, announces its boycott of the referendum process.
Long live Syria as a free country with free citizens.
Damascus; May 15, 2007
Secretariat Office of
Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change
"We are prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus Central Prison, lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, writer Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal Labwani, activists Mahmoud Issa, and Faek Al Mir, and Professor Aref Dalila who could not be reached as he spends his sixth year in solitary confinement. After the sentencing of lawyer Anwar Al Bunni on 24 April 2007, we would like to say thank you and greet our families, friends, and all the people, groups, committees, organizations, associations, parties and political assemblies of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in Syria and the Arab world. We thank and greet the official representatives, countries, media and websites that support us by protesting our trials and arrests, and denying the accusations against our colleague Anwar Al Bunni.
"We would like to send our heartfelt greetings and thanks to all of you and hope that your noble and brave attitude will not stop only with denying these accusations and supporting our cause. Our case as prisoners of conscience is part of the continuing crisis of basic freedoms and human rights in Syria that began with the Emergency Law 44 years ago. This crisis reached its height in the 1980s and again today by an increase in tyranny, arrests and the suppression of fundamental freedoms.
"Tens of thousands of Syrians have paid a horrible price, some with their lives, others with the loss of years and youth from inhumane prison conditions and cruel torture. Still more have suffered by being forced to escape the tyranny or enter into voluntary exile, another difficult experience. Other Syrians stayed, throwing salt on their wounds and binding their tongues to save themselves pain. Those that couldn’t live with their tongues tied faced a future in prison, homeless and alone. For the few people that climbed to the top of the tyranny and darkened Syrian society, they have contributed to the corruption, theft and poverty that have strangled the necks of the people.
The denial of fundamental human rights in Syria is the main case that we work for and your support for prisoners of conscience is part of this fight. Fighting for the release of these prisoners is a duty, not only to decrease their suffering and their families’ pain, but also to encourage others by knowing they are not alone. We must give society hope, making sure its doors and streets are not closed. With the power of hope it is possible to fight the crisis of freedom and human rights in Syria in a peaceful way.
"Terrorism is the enemy of mankind and civilization itself. It flourishes in societies that lack freedom and close doors to peaceful expression, leaving violence as a way of expressing oneself. Inside these societies suffering from poverty, where they find no well being on earth they will turn to the heavens and the answers that it may provide them. The lack of basic freedoms and human rights coupled with poverty are two faces of the same coin in the Third World. Syria is at the forefront of totalitarian countries, ruled from an isolated point of view with its citizens either idle passengers or doomed to be labeled traitors.
"The lack of freedom, means of expression, political participation and accountability leads to the growth of corruption, despotism, looting of public funds, rampant poverty and the collapse of moral values. The real fight against terrorism must not only be about combating extremist ideas. These ideas have existed throughout history, though they will always remain on the periphery, isolated and shunned, unless they find fertile soil to take root and grow. If they are allowed to develop in the soil of society, they will spread like toxic plants, poisoning communities and innocent people.
"Addressing the root causes of terrorism requires opening up pathways to free expression and the peaceful exchange of ideas. By giving people unfettered freedom we can blunt the sword of injustice, oppression and domination to grant full political participation, a hand in future decision-making, accountability, the preservation of equality and a life of dignity. This would make the world a safer place and improve international security.
"Syrians have paid a high price for their rights and freedom and we hope to be the last group forced to pay this price to help the great Syrian people. To do this we need more than your solidarity and denunciations. We need constant and tireless efforts to compel Syrian authorities to respect human rights, international law and the treaties and agreements it has signed which demand freedom of expression and opinion. The release of political prisoners is a necessary first step, including the abolition of the State Emergency Law and other such laws like Decree 49 signed in 1980 or the Hasakah Accountability Decree of 1962. Syria must abolish the State Security Court, compensate those that have suffered, create an independent judiciary, end torture and hold perpetrators responsible. They must stop political arrests and ensure the freedom of the press, allowing political participation and the formation of parties, organizations and civil society. They must stop the looting of public funds and policies of impoverishment and domination. However, these steps are just the beginning necessary to put Syria on the path to security and move towards development, progress and the protection of national unity that now suffers from division and tension. These rifts and divisions are now impossible to conceal, despite the dancing and celebrations and empty rhetoric about a healthy society that in reality is sick and suffering. As prisoners of conscience and opinion we are apprehensive about the future of our homeland, our children and our very decision to shape Syria’s future. However, we will not be deterred by threats, intimidation, and the repression of long years of imprisonment that we face to save our country and ourselves.
Adra Prison. 28-4-2007"
`Arabawi reports that outspoken Egyptian blogger, Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, is on the run after police raided his home in his absence during the morning of April 13 2007. Mahmoud is well-known amongst the Egyptian blogger community because he is one of the few members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are engaged in media work online. Mahmoud has been outspoken on his blog and critical of the police state measures that the Egyptian government has passed, and recently he wrote a solidarity post in support of the release of Egyptian blogger Abdelkarim Nabil Soliman.
According to the latest reports from `Arabawi, Mahmoud is on the run today, fearing that police will arrest and torture him as they did once before in 2004.
The English language website of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood also noted the difficult situation that Mahmoud's repeated detentions put his family in, since he has become the primary caregiver for his aging parents.
By way of `Arabawy, we are reposting the banner below (designed by Hag Gergess) in solidarity with Mahmoud, whose life is in danger as he flees from a regime afraid of his words.
Migrant-Rights.org, a new blog tracking the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East, has posted a new story regarding the vulnerable position of female domestic workers in Lebanon and Syria, who come from countries like Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and others, in order to earn a little bit of money to send back to their families. Usually they come to the host country not knowing how to speak the language, and have little recourse in the legal system when their rights are violated or when they are abused by their employers.
The story touches on the tragic story of Sushar Rosky, an 18 year old Sri Lankan girl who committed suicide by hanging herself off the balcony of her employer's home after working for her for only 20 days. Pictures of the young woman hanging below were taken from the article:
Little attention is paid to the working or living conditions of these workers, either physical or emotional, and the little research that has been conducted has suggested that abuse of these female workers is widespread and their legal options are severely limited. They rarely receive coverage in the Arabic press, and investigations by journalists are not conducted in the popular press. Even international human rights groups in the region have yet to produce a substantial report on the crisis.
The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies has released an English translation of a thorough investigation, originally released in August 2006, into the circumstances that surround the lives of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience after they have been released from prison.
The report was prepared by Dr. Hossam al-Saad and lawyer Razan Zaitouneh. The report notes the change in composition of the political prisoner population before and after the year 2000, explaining that prior to 2000, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, various leftist parties, andPalestinian groups, and Lebanese citizens were amongst those who were arrested and put in jail. After 2000, the report notes that Kurdish activists and civil society figures as well as members of the opposition began to become one of the regimes primary targets.
The report also notes that these arrests are accompanied with a number of other violations that obscure responsibility and intimidate the prisoners as well as the society:
Political arrest is accompanied by a number of other violations, which can be summarized as follows:
1. Arrest is conducted extra-legally by different branches of the security apparatus. It is not uncommon that the detainee is subject to forced disappearance, at least for the first months or years of detention.
2. Torture and ill treatment is systematically resorted to during the investigation phase that can last many months;
3. Trials are held before exceptional tribunals, which do not respect the minimum standards of justice, such as the state’s High Security Court in Damascus and the military court marshals. In addition, military courts are currently occasionally used to try prisoners of conscience.
4. Detention without trial for long periods of time, which could last the whole period of detention.
5. Solitary confinement and denial of visiting rights
The report takes a look at three areas by which prisoners suffer permanent damage: physically (the effects of torture and detention on the prisoner's health), socially (the stigma attached to the prisoner in society, preventing him from reintegrating into society), and psychologically (a difficulty to "overcome the prison experience" after release).
To take a look at this informative report, you may download the attachments below.
Human rights activists in Damascus have relayed the news that Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, a peaceful Syrian political activist who has been in jail since November 8, 2005, has been placed in solitary confinement by Syrian authorities since Wednesday March 21, 2007. Dr. Labwani had a hearing in court on March 19, 2007, and delivered a personal statement (to be posted in the near future) to the court after hiding it from prison guards.
Friends and relatives of Dr. Labwani are worried for his health and mental situation because, according to reports, he is in solitary confinement in a small, underground, rat-infested room with no lights, shoes, or washing facilities. He is allowed only small portions of food and water, and it is too cold for him to sleep at night.
It should also be noted that Dr. Labwani's transfer into solitary confinement should be understood as being a response to his appearance in court two days prior, where he and his lawyers delivered statements to the court. Dr. Labwani's attorney, Muhannad al-Hasani, was called to the Security Services for interrogation three times in the days immediately following his appearance in court to defend Dr. Labwani on March 19. It is believed that both the interrogations and the transfer into solitary confinement are retaliatory actions by the Syrian authorities meant to intimidate the prisoner and his attorney into further silence. Mr. Hasani's defense statement to the court is available below as an attachment in Arabic (if you are able to translate it into English, please do so and let us know so that we can post it).
Please help spread awareness regarding Dr. Labwani's continued detainment, especially in such inhumane conditions, by writing letters to the press, congressional representatives, and others with access to the public sphere calling for Dr. Labwani's release. If you run a blog or website, please consider posting this news there in hopes that it may reach a wider audience. For more information, please visit Dr. Labwani's profile on this website by clicking here.
If you would like to further help the cause of political prisoners in the Middle East, please read this.
Update Mar 28 2007: Mr. Hasani's defense statement in Arabic has been attached below. Dr. Labwani's personal statement should be posted soon.
A briefing sent out by IFEX this morning notes that two years have passed since lawyer Mohammed Abbou was arrested for criticizing the Tunisian government. The IFEX briefing also notes that a journalist, Mohammed al-Fourati, was sentenced in absentia to 14 months for "belonging to an unlicensed association and collecting money without permission" after having been charged and found innocent for this "crime" four times in the past.
Here is the content of the IFEX report:
Tunisia was condemned locally and externally last week during the marking
of the 2nd anniversary of Mohammed Abbou's imprisonment. The same scenario
is repeated this week with journalists Mohammed Al-Fourati who was
sentenced in absentia to one year and 2 months imprisonment for belonging
to an unlicensed association and collecting money without permission. This
is one of the methods that the Tunisian regime resorts to. This is the
fifth time that the court looks into this case after he was found innocent
four times before reaching the court of cessation where the sentence was
The phenomenon of torture and violence in Tunisian prisons and outside of
The National Council for Liberties issued two statements this week
monitoring the phenomenon of violence practiced by the Tunisian government.
The first statement reveals police surrounding the National Council for
Liberties and attacking journalists in an attempt to prevent them from
attending a press conference held in cooperation with Reprieve. The
statement also dealt with the suffering of Mohammed Abbou's wife and his
daughter when they were trying to visit him in prison. The second statement
exposes the violent attack on prisoners in al-Karaka prison when they were
attacked by an order from the prison administration. The Council at the end
of the statement expresses its concern of the return of the phenomenon of
torture and violence in Tunisian prisons.
The National Council for Liberties in Tunisia
The National Observatory for Press Freedom, Publication, and Creativity -
For more information in Arabic, please visit: http://www.hrinfo.net/tunisia
Please circulate this news widely, and consider creating a profile for Mohammed al-Fourati on this website by creating an account and creating new content.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee reported the following information on March 16, 2007, in Arabic. Below is a rough translation into English regarding the death of political detainee Muhammad `Ali Dirbak.
"The Syrian Human Rights Committee received news about the death of the detainee Muhammad `Ali Dirbak (72 years old) due to mistreatment. Mr. Dirbak had been arrested by Syrian political security services on January 28, 2007.
"Based on the information received (and the accuracy of the information can not be definitively confirmed because of the strict confidentiality of the Syrian security services), Muhammad `Ali Dirbak, of Banyas (Western Syria), suffered a stroke at the place of his detention at the investigation branch of political security in Damascus last week due to ill-treatment. He was transferred to a hospital and it is believed that he died yesterday (Thursday, March 15, 2007), after the deterioration of his health.
"Elements of the Syrian political security services arrested Dirbak because of a poem he wrote that criticized Shia Muslims in one of its lines. He wrote the poem after Al-Jazeera broadcast a story about the attacks by the Mahdi Army in Iraq on Syrian refugees there, and the killing of some of them.
"Because Dirbak copied his poem by using a copy machine at a copy center, the political security services also arrested the owner of the business, Rami Rakhamiyyah. Mr. Rakhamiyyah was not present in the store when copies of the poem were made. In addition, the worker in the business who prepared the copy operation `Ala' Muhiyyi al-Din was also arrested.
"The condition of the two the prisoners is not known, but it should be noted that the first (Mr. Rakhamiyyah) is ill and needs medication for Thyroids. It is not known whether he has received them in prison.
"It should be noted that Sami Dirbak, the son of Muhammad `Ali Dirbak, was sentenced by the Supreme State Security Court with five others on February 27, 2007 for association with the Muslim Brotherhood under Act 49 of 1980 which prescribes the death sentence for membership in the organization. Afterwards, the sentence was reduced to 6 years in prison.
"The Syrian Human Rights Committee contacted an official source in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and he assured it that the citizens sentenced were not members in the organization, and that the organization does not have any organization or organizational relationship inside Syria as long as Act 49 hangs on the necks of the Syrian people because it does not want to leave a justification for the regime to arrest any Syrian citizen accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The Syrian Human Rights Committee calls on the Syrian authorities to disclose the fate of Muhammad `Ali Dirbak and how he was handled since the deterioration of his health, and to either confirm or deny the news of his death.
"Just as SHRC renews its emphasis on the need for the release of all detainees in the hands of the security services, the SHRC calls for the arbitrary detention of Syrian citizens to stop, as well as their subjection to torture and ill-treatment."
Please spread news about Mr. Dirbak's death at the hands of Syrian security services in order to place pressure on the Syrian regime to stop abusing its citizens. If you are able, please consider creating a profile for Mr. Dirbak, his son, or the arrested workers under the "Syria" section of this website by creating an account and clicking on "Create content."
If you feel that this translation is problematic, please feel free to post your suggestions as a comment.
Update March 25 2007: We are pleased to update that on March 22, 2007, it was reported that Mr. Dirbak was released by Syrian authorities in order to prove that the rumors circulating regarding his death were not true.
`Arabawy reports that dozens of activists protesting against the latest amendments to the constitution by the Egyptian government have been detained by security forces.
CSF troops surround the Tagammu Party headquarters. (Photograph by Hossam al-Hamalawy)
The detainees–we were told by leftist activists and rights lawyers who took their cars and started chasing the Police truck that had the kidnapped activists–were taken to CSF troops camp in Darrassa (besides Al-Azhar Park). Later, the trucks took the detainees to El-Dhaher Police Station (halfway between Ramses and Ghamra), and that’s where they are now.
The lawyers have not been granted access to the detainees inside the police station, so we do not know the full number inside, but we think it’s 35. Two activists earlier were released before the trucks reached the police station. And now I’m told at least another four were released.
Please continue to monitor this situation and, if the activists are not released, consider creating profiles for each individual.
As it has become clearer, unfortunately, that there are more stories regarding violated rights and liberties in the Middle East than AELME.org has members to keep the database of profiles updated, I have decided to start posting related news stories on the front page of this website. I do this for a number of reasons: 1) the sheer amount of news coming out of the region is overwhelming, and it would be great to have a central resource that people could check; 2) some items are very much related to the concept of political, social, and economic rights in the Middle East, but cannot necessarily be represented as individuals; 3) in the hope that when new blog posts do relate to individual prisoners, that these posts might encourage visitors to take it upon themselves to contribute a profile to the database.