Authorities were keen to present prominent political detainees to the judiciary. Trials were divided into two parts: one to be assigned to ordinary judiciary and the other to exceptional judiciary. All trials have common features; the most important of which is the absence of ample evidence of conviction for the prosecutor to rely on, and charging the detainees with ambiguous accusations where the political and the criminal thereof are mixed up. Criminal accusations were used for political purposes.
There was not a fundamental difference between the ordinary judiciary’s treatment of the defendants and that of the exceptional judiciary with respect to the cruel judgments passed by them, which arises concern about the process of subjecting the ordinary judiciary to the emergency laws and cause it to join the procession of the exceptional courts that represent the authority of the emergency law and martial law rather than the Constitution and the other valid laws, for the Syrian Constitution states in article 38 that “Every citizen has the right to express his opinion freely and publicly whether verbally, in writing or through any other means and to participate in monitoring and constructive criticism in a way that safeguards the national structure and supports the socialist system. The State, on its part, guarantees the freedom of the press, printing and publication in accordance with the law”.
The defense lawyers were not allowed the opportunity before the ordinary judiciary to defend the defendants through summoning the witnesses who, they thought, would prove their clients innocent. Meanwhile, in the case of the trials before the exceptional judiciary, the minutes of the prosecution were made difficult to see. Moreover, the trial of the two representatives: Muhammad Mamun al-Homsi and Riayd Saif was a relapse on the part of the Syrian judiciary, for it did not summon any of the witnesses that the court wanted to be present to give their witness, such as the officials and ministers. Neither did the court hear but the witnesses who defended Riyad Saif by refuting all the accusations he had been charged with. Yet the two representatives were convicted.
The Trial of Mamun al-Homsi
Two months after Mamun al-Homsi’s arrest preparations were undertaken for his trial. He was introduced to an administrative interrogation session on October 27, 2001, and the public prosecution in Damascus brought a public suit against him accusing him of intending to change the State’s Constitution through illegal means and preventing the standing authorities from practicing their functions that are derived from the Constitution, and of behaving maliciously towards the nation’s unity, and disrupting harmony among the citizens, and opposing the legal practices of the State’s officials and censuring and defaming the legislative, executive and judicial authorities.
The trial started with the first session on October 30, 2001 . The trial was public, but the defendant and his lawyers differed with the court several times during the trial that continued till March 20, 2002 . The defense accused the court of denying the representative al-Homsi medical care in the prison in spite of his bad health because of his being a diabetic. The defense accused the court of not being impartial and demanded twice that it withdraw from the case owing to loss of confidence in its uprightness, after “falsifying” the records of one of the sessions by not writing down all the sayings of the defendant. However, the court insisted on declaring its being qualified to try the case.
A week before the court passed its judgment the defense committee withdrew protesting against the proceedings of the court that did not witness the summoning of any of the 21witnesses that the defense wanted to be present. The second Criminal Court in Damascus passed its judgment against the Homsi representative albeit the absence of lawyers to defend him as a result of the withdrawal of the defense committee. The judgment was passed by the majority, for the consultant ‘Abbas Deeb disagreed with his two colleagues in the court committee. The court’s decision stated the it criminalized the defendant for the two crimes of intending to change the constitution and preventing the official authorities from practicing their functions, and for the offences of censuring and defaming the legislative and judicial authorities, and it judged that he be detained and deprived of his civil rights, and be imprisoned temporarily for five years for the crime of intending to change the constitution, and for three years for the crime of preventing the official authorities from practicing their constitutional functions, and for six months for the crime of censuring the legislative and judicial authorities, and for six months for the crime of defaming the legislative and judicial authorities. The Court, however, decided to combine the punishments, that is to say, that al-Homsi would be imprisoned for five years. The Court also cleared him of the charges of provoking sectarian and factious differences, and of the passive resistance to prevent the legal practices done by the Government for lack of ample evidence.
Al-Homsi appointed new lawyers to defend him, and the new defense committee presented its revocation of his imprisonment sentence before the expiration of the 30 days’ respite granted by law.
The Trial of Riyad Saif
The trial of Riyad Saif was carried out simultaneously with that of Mamun al-Homsi. Two months after his arrest Saif was transferred to an administrative interrogation session before the criminal court in the room of the Head of the Court on October 27, 2001. The first public prosecution in Damascus had brought a public suit against Saif on February, 2oo1 criminalizing him of the offence of attempting to change the State’s Constitution through illegal means and enhancing religious factious differences and establishing a secret society for purposes that do not comply with the law (the Social Peace Movement). When he was arrested in September 2001, the first magistrate in Damascus added thereto the accusation of Saif of holding meetings in his home during which those present held discussions and delivered political instigating speeches without having obtained a permit from the relevant authorities.
His trial started with a first session on October 31, 2001 . The trial was public. The prosecutor managed to summon only three witnesses who all testified in favor of the defendant. The defense committee continued its defense before the court till the end. An atmosphere of optimism overwhelmed the later sessions before the court came to decide on April 4, 2002 by majority that Saif was guilty to surprise the defense committee and the monitors and strengthen the expectations that the judgment had been ready-made.
The court sentenced Saif to five years’ executable imprisonment after criminalizing him with the crime of aggression that aimed at changing the Constitution through illegal ways. He was also sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for establishing a secret society and holding illegal meetings. But the court adopted the more severe punishment and cleared him of the accusation of instigating sectarian and religious factious differences. The defense lawyers described Saif’s case as a political, and regarded the decision of criminating him as such also and they presented their objection to the decision.
The Supreme State Security Court
The existence of the Supreme State Security Court in Syria is regarded as inconsistent with the permanent Constitution that was approved in 1973. The Court is still standing although it had been instituted by an ordinance prior to the Constitution. But the Syrian Government takes advantage of a constitutional justification represented by article 153 that states that “valid legislations enacted before the declaration of this Constitution continue in effect till they are modified in conformity with its rules.” The Government, however, has not, since the approval of the Constitution, submitted to the People’s Assembly or reviewed many of the laws that were in effect in the past, including ordinance no. 47 of 28/3/1968 which instituted the Supreme State Security Court and specified its jurisdiction notwithstanding what this ordinance carries of manifest deviations from the articles of chapter 4 of the Constitution which details “the public freedoms, rights and duties”. This court had been established to replace the abolished exceptional military court (which had been instituted by the law of opposing the goals of the Revolution and the institution of exceptional courts that was enacted by ordinance no. 6 on 7/1/1965 . The Supreme State Security Court is formed with an ordinance, on the proposal of the martial judge, of a head and two judges, one civilian and the other military. Two further members may be added to the court committee in important cases that are up to the martial judge to assess.
Ordinance 47 allows the institution of more than one state security court. Article 6 of the ordinance extends the jurisdiction of the Supreme State Security Court to cover “all individuals whether civilian or military regardless of their personality or immunity”. Moreover, its jurisdiction is not confined to the cases that it tries, for article 5 states that in addition to the privilege of having all the jurisdiction of the (abolished) exceptional military court, the Supreme State Security Court “is authorized to look into any other case referred to it by the martial judge”.
The ordinance of instituting the court states that “despite securing the right of defense as indicated in the valid laws, the courts of state security do not have to abide by the usual procedures stated in the valid legislation, and this applies to all the steps and procedures of pursuit, investigation and trial”.
According to the text of the ordinance “it is impermissible to object to the judgments passed by the Supreme State Security Court, and these judgments do not become valid except after being approved by a decision made by the President of the State who has the right to repeal the judgment and order the trial to be repeated, annul it and set the case aside, or reduce the punishment or replace it by a less severe one. Setting the case aside has the effect of general amnesty. The decision of the President of the State in this respect would be decisive and irrevocable and unquestionable by any means”.
The Supreme State Court recovered its activity considerably this year, particularly due to showing it great consideration after transferring the eight opinion detainees to it. The Court holds its sessions usually secretly. It actually held during this year two secret trials that were disclosed later on. The trial of five of the above-mentioned eight detainees started in an atmosphere that was not characterized by full publicity although a delegate from the state press, the detainees’ wives as well as a number of defense lawyers were allowed to be present.
The public prosecution, in its suits raised to the Supreme State Security Court , accused the defendants of political offences that can be referred to the exceptional unfair laws, keeping in mind that the judgments are irrevocable.
Following are the most important trials held by the Supreme State Security Court in Damascus this year:
From Hama city. The Syrian authorities arrested him in 1966. He is not known to have any political activity or affiliation, but his brother who was in exile was an important member in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria . He resided in Saudi Arabia till mid 1990s, when he left it for Jordan , where he stayed for around a year during which he frequented the Syrian Embassy, which informed him that there was nothing to prevent him from traveling to Syria . He then did return home in1996 to be immediately arrested on arriving at the borders. The court then criminalized Madhat Tayfur accusing him of joining “a criminal organization”, implying the Muslim Brotherhood who are outlawed by law 49 of 1980, and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment.
A Kurdish activist. The Kurdish People’s Union Party in Syria says that he is a member in it. Dawud had been returned to Syria from Germany that refused to grant him political asylum. The authorities arrested him when he arrived in Damascus airport on December 10, 2000 and was not presented to the court till recently, whereupon the Supreme State Security Court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment on March 20, 2002 after charging him with two accusations: first: opposing the objectives of the Revolution through participating in the demonstrations opposing the regime in Syria, and second: being involved in activities that aim at dividing Syria and stripping off part of it. The sentence was less severe in comparison with the Court’ severe judgments, by virtue of the German Government’s pressure.
On April 4, 2002 , the day when the judgment was passed against Riyad Saif, the Supreme State Security Court headed by the judge Fayiz al-Nuri activated the file of Riyad al-Turk and seven other opinion detainees through summoning a number of witnesses by the Public Prosecution. Riyad al-Turk was the first among these seven to be tried by the Supreme State Security Court on April 28, 2002 .
The Public Prosecution accused al-Turk of propagating false or exaggerated information that would dishearten the nation or belittle the dignity of the State or its financial status, and aim at weakening the national feeling and awaken the sectarian and religious factious bigotry. It also accused him of seeking to change the Constitution of the State through illegal means and to provoke an armed rebellion against the authorities that are legally authorized by the Constitution. The Court held its first session publicly, but it soon regressed to return to the secret sessions. It allowed the presence of only one journalist representing the Governmental News Agency and the presence of the defendant’s wife and his lawyer. The Court is supposed to pass its judgment on June 26, 2002 .
‘Arif Dalila, Walid al-Bunni, Habib Salih and Habib ‘Issa
Their trial started after the trial of Riayd al-Turk. They were presented to the Court in individual trials. They are facing charges from the Public Prosecution concerning attacking the Constitution, propagating false or exaggerated information that is apt to dishearten the nation or belittle the State’s dignity or its financial status and weakening the national feeling and provoking sectarian and religious factional bigotry and seeking to arouse an armed rebellion against the authorities.
To these charges a new accusation was added against three of them, ‘Arif Dalila, Habib Salih and Walid al-Bunni. The accusation is “insulting the President and the standing regime”, in a session held by the Supreme State Security Court on June12, 2002. The defendants asserted that the accusation was fabricated, while the defense lawyer said that the new accusation is based on recordings taken from them unawares in the prison, which are regarded as illegal and do not conform with Shari’a law
Kamal Labwani, Fawaz Tillu and Hasan Sa’dun
Their trial has not started till the preparation of this report, but they are facing accusations similar to those faced by their five comrades that are being tried.
The detainees of al-Tahrir Party
The SHRC has learnt that in May, 2002 the Supreme State Security Court looked into the case of some of the detainees of al-Tahrir Party who were arrested in 1999-2000, but, due to the secrecy of the court, no information about the proceedings of the trial or the nature of the judgments passed is available.