Re: Mr. Riad Seif, Mr. Marwan Aloush, Mr. Mohammed Haj Darwish, Mr. Fayez Sarah, Dr. Ahmad Tohme, Mr. Jaber al-Shoufi, Mr. Akram al Bunni, Dr. Fida al-Hurani, Mr. Ali al-Abdullah, Dr. Walid Bunni, Mr. Talal Abu Dan and Dr. Yasser Tayser Aleiti
To: President Bashar al-Assad, General Basam Abd Al-Majid, Minister Muhammad al- Ghafari
From: Michael M. Macaulay, Member of LRWC
We are writing to you with regard to the October 29, 2008 convictions of 12 activists – namely Mr. Riad Seif, Mr. Marwan Aloush, Mr. Mohammed Haj Darwish, Mr. Fayez Sarah, Dr. Ahmad Tohme, Mr. Jaber al-Shoufi, Mr. Akram al Bunni, Dr. Fida al-Hurani, Mr. Ali al-Abdullah, Dr. Walid Bunni, Mr. Talal Abu Dan and Dr. Yasser Tayser Aleiti (collectively, the “Activists”) – belonging to the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (the “NCDD”) which met on December 1, 2007 to follow-up on the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change of October, 16 2005 (the “Damascus Declaration”). LRWC has previously written to the Syrian Government regarding the arrests, detention and harassment of several of the activists as the result of their involvement in the Damascus Declaration.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the “Observatory”), a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture, and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network sent an international observer to attend the Activists’ September 24, 2008 hearing. Based on what was observed at the hearing, the Observatory reported serious violations of the right to a fair trial, including the following:
1. most of the defendants were encaged during the trial;
2. the defendants’ confessions and statements recorded in police minutes were obtained under coercion and sometimes torture;
3. the police minutes on which the indictment is based have never been communicated to the defence lawyers;
4. police minutes had been drafted by unauthorised agents;
5. the defendants had never been allowed to discuss in private with their lawyers; and
6. despite serious health problems, several of the defendants did not receive any medical care.
The fundamental violations of the Activists’ rights to receive a fair trial, seriously call into question the outcome of the judicial proceedings.
LRWC respectfully asks that Syrian authorities immediately release the Activists pending a retrial in line with internationally accepted norms of fairness, transparency and impartiality.
LRWC also wishes to express its view that the only crime which the Activists appear to have committed is to have peacefully exercised their fundamental freedoms by calling for the establishment of a democratic system that respects the rights of citizens, ensures freedom of speech and association, and ends discrimination based on religious or political beliefs. As such, LRWC would like to respectfully remind Syrian authorities of their obligations to respect freedom of expression not only under various international treaties and instruments, but also under Article 38 of the Syrian Constitution.