Nizar Nayuf Released, Collective grave folder, strict censorship on “Domari” Paper, a new Human Rights society in Syria, Annual Report of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, An extensive arrest campaign, evacuation of Tadmu (Palmyra) Prison, Legislative Decree No. 50
On 6 May 2001, the Syrian authorities released Journalist Nizar Nayuwf (39 years) who was detained for nine years out of ten years he was sentenced to due to his activity in advocating human rights in the country. (He was arrested on 10 December 1992). Being released, Nizar was put under house arrest in his village in “Bsindyana” on the Syrian Coast. However, he did not obey the rules. Then, and under the pressure of the human rights’ organizations, he was permitted to go abroad to receive treatment of an illness he caught during his imprisonment. But before going abroad, he was kidnapped for ten hours during which he was threatened to cut his tongue.
Before leaving the country, Nayuwf established the National Council for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Syria. Reporters with no borders organization received him in Paris at their expense. He started treatment against Hodgkin disease. Abroad, Nizar Nayuwf started disclosing human rights violations in Syria and threatened to disclose hundreds of documents he owns. He threatened to chase those in charge and involved in violations of human rights in Syria especially Rifat Assad, Vice President and brother of Hafez Assad. He said that he must be persecuted for his liability in Palmyra prison massacre. However, this persecuted Nizar Nayuwf in Paris for public defame against him.
Opening the File of Collective Graves
Since Nizar Nayuwf was released, the file of collective graves for the political detainees who died in the Syrian prisons during the past two decades was re-opened. Nayuwf was the first one to open this file while in Syria. He confirmed his possession of evidence to the existence of these collective graves near Tadmur (Palmyra) prison. He said that those buried there are from the victims of Palmyra massacre committed by the Defense Brigades under Rifat Assad on 27.6.1980. Victims of that massacre estimated between 600 to 1200. Most of them are Muslim Brothers or sympathisers.
On 16. 7. 2001, The Syrian Human Rights Committee in London declared that they received information from authorized sources that rakes moved to transport large amounts of soil in a certain location to the East of the desert city of Palmyra. The Committee said that they believe that this was done as a step to remove traits of collective graves of the victims of Palmyra massacre which was disclosed by the Arab and foreign media. The Syrian authorities organized a visit for three Arab journalists to the site near Palmyra to assure that the soil would not be removed from the area. They neither denied nor proved the existence of the collective grave. It is believed that the site visited by the journalists under official supervision is not that of the concerned collective grave. However, the Syrian Human Rights Committee welcomed the visit and considered it as an unprecedented initiative by the Syrian authorities.
Strict measures against the Domari Paper
On 16 .6.2001, the Syrian Government and through the Minister of Information Adnan Imran tried to prohibit the printing of the Domari Paper- a cynical weekly- because it had two critical articles against the Government. The problem ended two days later by permitting the printing of the issue and the paper administration had to withdraw the two pages of the articles and replace them with caricatures. The two canceled pages criticize performance of Prime Minister Moh’d Mustafa Miro cabinate.
Domari Paper was issued in February 2001 as the first independent paper in Syria in 38 years. Syria did not have any independent press since 8.3.1963 when the Ba’th Party assumed authority after a military coup d’etat.
A new Human rights Society in Syria
On 26.7.2001, the Human Rights Society in Syria held its first constitutional meeting in Damascus in the presence of 43 members to pass the Society by-law and elect the members of the Board.
The elections ended up with Advocate Haitham Maleh who hosted the meeting in his office as the Chairman of the Board, Salim Khair as the Vice-Chairman, Omar Kerdas as a Secretary, and Advocate Tayma’ Jyoush as the cashier. Other seven members were elected: Independent Deputy Riad Saif, Ahmed Fayez Fawaz, Hassan Abbas, Radwan Zeyadeh, Munir Khatib, Ali Al-Omar and Haitham Keilani.
The Society declared that they will submit an application to the concerned authority to have a license. Although the Society did not have a license from the Syrian authorities, it has been practising its activities publicly. It advocated the political detainees and cooperated with other Human Rights committees in Syria who implement their activities abroad to defend human rights in Syria. However, some members were arrested later on.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee
On 1.7.2001, the Syrian Human Rights’ Committee issued its first annual report coinciding with the first anniversary of President Bashar Assad assumption of presidency.
The Report mentioned a relative openness in the human rights conditions in Syria under the new regime. However, this retreated later on. The report stated that the Law of Emergency imposed since 8.3.1963 is still in force and that the security corpses dominate the public life. It claimed that 600 political prisoners benefited from the presidential amnesty issued by President Bashar Assad on the occasion of the Corrective Movement on 16.11.2000. Among those 400 people were held in the desert prison of Palmyra. Some of the detaineed spent long terms of more than two decades and some others exceeded the terms they were sentenced to. They belonged either to the Muslim Brotherhood or to Communist groups. The Amnesty included some of the neighboring Arab countries nationals. However, this amnesty did not include some other hundreds most of whom are Muslim brothers and some are of the Arab Communism Organization and the Democratic Ba’th Party.
Also, the conscience detainee Nizar Nayuwf was released. He was sentenced to ten years and was released upon an intervention by the Pope during his visit to Syria. The security services went on arresting people with not official warranties. They tortured them and resulted at least in two fatalities.
Coercive missing cases went on. The Syrian national Hussein Dawood who coercively deported from Germany where he seeked asylum. He was held in Palestine branch in December 2000. None of his relatives could contact him. It is believed that the reason of his arrest is because of his relation with the Kurd People’s Federation in Syria. Also, the British citizen of the Iraqi origin Hilal Ali went missing, who was married to a Syrian lady, 25.7.2000 after being arrested by one of the Syrian security service. He was released late June 2001.
Some of the security services went on with torturing families of those wanted. People are detained in inhuman conditions in cellars of the Intelligence branches and Palmyra prison. It is estimated that about 13-17 thousand detainees were missing in Syrian prisons, with no known destiny.
Although the Syrian authorities ignore the meeting of committees to defend human rights in Syria and are silent towards these groups’ activities without giving them any official license, the forums of thought have been closed and so were the civil society committees. The authorities issued licenses to three papers the Progressive National Front Parties and to another independent cynical paper which they barred its freedom of publication.
Independent members of the Peoples’ Council who requested amendments to the governmental policies have been living under threats for sol long. They were denied parliament immunity with no legal justifications as was the case with member Riad Saif. The authorities did not also give cards to the Arab media reports as was the case with the reporter of Al-Jazeera Moh’d Abdullah.
A short time after the issuance of instructions to give Syrians living abroad temporary passports, the authorities stopped the step. Some of the passports were issued upon a blackmail by some of the authorized employees of the Syrian embassies who got money for issuing the documents.
An extensive arrest campaign
A new arrest campaign started with the arrest of the Damascus independent MP Moh’d Ma’moun Homsi on 9.8.2001 when he went into an open food strike in his office in quest of a democratic shift in the country. The authorities accused him with several contradictory accusations such as tax evasiveness and dealing with foreign parties. Then, the arrests went on by arresting the Secretary General of the Communist Party, the political bureau, Riad el-Turk (71 years) who was jailed for 17 years. He was arrested while he was receiving medication at a clinic in the coastal city of Tartous on 31.8.2001. The reason for his arrest was the lecture he delivered at Jamal Al-Atasi Forum in Damascus in early August 2001 and other statements he said during an interview with the Qatari Satellite Channel Al-Jazeera. He described the ex-ruler in Syria as a dictator. His arrest coincided with a warranty of arrest issued against Nizar Nayuwf , journalist living temporarily abroad.
On 6 September 2001, the authorities arrested the independent deputy Riad Saif (57 years old) whose forum hosted a lecture by the know Syrian academic Burhan Ghalion. The lecture called for democratic reform in the country. Saif was accused of committing economic violations. Then, five activists defending human rights were arrested on 9.9.2001. Those were the businessman Habib Saleh (52 years), Dr. Kamal Lobwani (44 years), Walid Bounni (38 yers), Dr. Aref Dalila and Mr. Hasan Sa’doun- a retired. The authorities officially confessed their arrest. Then, on 12.9.2001 they ararested Advocate Habib Issa (Lawyer of Riad Saif and the person in charge of Jamal Atasi Forum), and Engineer Fawaz Tello to end up with about 10 detainees in about one month.
Arrests did not stop at this stage. The Syrian Human Rights Committee declared on Friday 21.9.2001 that the Syrian authorities took advantage of that day to arrest tens of people in several areas of the country as they belong to various civil and cultural groups. This was within the attack of the Syrian regime against the new civil trend in the country and to suppress the call to a peaceful protest against the arrests of some activists of reviving the civil society and democratic freedoms.
The Committee called for releasing those arrested especially the Kurdish Syrian writer Moh’d Hammo who was arrested on 27.8.2001 at his bookshop (BadrKhan) in Al Ashrafiy in Aleppo. It was observed in the previous arrests that the Syrian authorities have sought to employ the law as an instrument despite its clear political colour. In case of the two independent MPs Moh’d Ma’moun Homsi and Riad Saif, the security authorities got the parliamentary immunity lift before arrest from the Parliament Speaker Abdul Qader Qadoura and not from the whole parliament in a duly held meeting.
Evacuation of Tadmur (Palmyra) Prison
On 30.8.2001, the Arab Committee for Human Rights in Paris announced that the Syrian security authorities have completed a big transportation of the political prisoners from Tadmur (Palmyra) prison as it would be officially closed down in the annual anniversary of the corrective movement led by President Hafez Assad in 1970. The Committee said thaht 284 prisoners were transported in July 2001 from Palmyra prison to Sednaya prison which is a place for recovery and treatment before releasing the detainees.
Sources of the committee counted 37 injuries of fatal diseases in the group, 20 of which are hopeless cases. The Committee provided the Higher Commission of Human Rights at the UN with a list of the serious cases now found in Sednaya prison. On 31.8.2001, the London based Al-Hayat newspaper mentioned that there were some indicators to the closing down process of the military prison of Tadmur. Some ex-political detainees said that the Syrian authorities evacuated the military prison of Tadmur in middle of the country as a first step to close it down entirely as was the case with the military prison of Mezzeh in November 2000. One of the detainees said that about 500 political detainees were transported to Sednaya prison near Damascus and in two groups. In the first group, 284 detainees were transported at the end of last July. The others were transported the second group in August.
The spokesman of the Committees to advocate human rights in Syria, Advocate Aktham Nuaiseh wrote in April 2001 in the first annual report distributed by his committee in the country for decades. He talked about human rights and said that Tadmur prison is the worst; it is the symbol of cruelty and oppression in the modern history of Syria. Not far away in time, all cruel types of torture were practiced in the prison. Torture was the daily bread for prisoners. However, he said that there were information about an improvement in dealing with prisoners since 1992. In 1999, this improvement became clear with the increasing attention to the food and health conditions of prisoners. Daily torture stopped; humiliating dealing did not, though.
The Legislative Act No. 50 for 2001
On 22.9.2001, the Syrian President Bashar Assad approved the legislative act No. 50 for 2001. It is the new press and publication law in Syria. It replaces the old act of 8 October 1949.
The long awaited law officially permits the publication of matters that do not undergo the State censorship. Licenses are also given to publish periodicals. However, the Law imposed plenty of restrictions to publication. It imposes strict penalties against those violating it. It denies license to those deprived from their civil rights.
Act 50 rules over the work of press houses, bookshops and publishing houses. It stipulates the duly required procedures for giving licenses to periodicals. It states the prohibitions of publication and crimes of publications as well as the trials in relation therewith. The new act adds nothing when it permits persons and corporate bodies to publish a periodical according to a set of conditions. The previous law for 1949 granted licenses to periodicals according to the same requirements more or less. This part was in fact frozen since the Ba’th party assumed power in 1963.
The new act is criticized for giving the Prime Minister wide authorities to deny newspapers’ licensing. The Act also is very strict with regard to the content of the printed matter. Its penalties directly covers journalists and what they publish.
The act is still in favor of the executive power who can construe and implement it the way they want. Penalties against those violating it are imprisonment for ten days to three years. The fine reaches one million Syrian Lira; more than USD20,000.
Violating papers are penalized by suspending their issuance from one week to six months. In addition, there are other penalties stipulated in the valid laws. Any published matter calls to change the State Constitution in non-constitutional manner is penalized by nullifying its license in addition to the other stipulated penalties. The Minister of Information shall have the power to withdraw the journalist card from a journalist if he abstains from introducing an “authorized source” of his paper information.
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