Top Syrian political prisoners free after term ends

  • World
  • Monday, 14 Jun 2010

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian authorities have released three prominent opposition figures after they completed jail terms on charges of weakening national morale, their lawyers said on Monday.

The three men were part of a group of 12 who were arrested during 2007 and jailed for two and a half years after they tried to revive the Damascus Declaration, a rights movement named after a document signed in 2005 by opposition figures.

"Akram al-Bunni, Jabr al-Shoufi and Dr Ahmad Tumeh spent several days at a security branch after their jail term expired but they are now home with their families," Khalil Maatouk said.

"They were let go yesterday. They are in good health," another lawyer said.

Prison terms for the remaining nine, including former parliamentarian Riad Seif, expire over the next two months.

They were charged with weakening national morale, a regular accusation by the government against its opponents that international lawyers and human rights organisations say is of questionable validity as a crime.

The Damascus Declaration demanded the lifting of bans on freedoms of speech and assembly and abolition of emergency law, which has governed Syria since 1963, when the ruling Baath Party took power, banning any opposition.

Most of the Damascus Declaration leaders had served long jail sentences for their views. Bunni was previously jailed for 17 years after being arrested during his last year in medical school in the 1980s.

His brother Anwar, a lawyer, is serving a five-year jail sentence. The German Association of Judges awarded him a rights prize in 2009, two years after he was arrested.

The government has intensified a campaign of arrests of political opponents over the last two years. Despite this, it has enjoyed international rehabilitation after years in isolation due to disputes with the West over Syria's role in Lebanon and Iraq and its support for militant groups.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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