Nothing left of Damascus spring after 10 pro-democracy activists charged

Nothing left of Damascus spring after 10 pro-democracy activists charged

Two journalists and eight other pro-democracy activists who
signed the Damascus Declaration, an appeal for “radical democratic
change,” were brought before a judge in Damascus yesterday, six weeks
after the start of a wave of arrests, and were formally charged with
attacking the prestige of the state, publishing false information,
membership of a secret organisation aimed at destabilising the state
and fuelling ethnic and racial tension.

“Bashar al-Assad led people to believe that a
page had been turned when he became president in June 2000,” Reporters
Without Borders said. “He spoke of his desire to modernise the state
and actively combat corruption. Several political activists and
journalists felt sufficiently confident to call for an end to the state
of emergency and a return to the rule of law. But the spring was
short-lived and arbitrary arrests soon resumed under the new regime.
The Damascus Declaration’s signatories are the latest victims.”

Those
who appeared in court yesterday were Fida’a Al-Horani, president of the
executive bureau of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration,
Akram Al-Bunni, its general secretary, Ahmad To’meh, Jaber Al-Shufi,
Mohammed Darwish, Marwan Al-Aashi, Walid Bunni, Mohammad Yasser Al-Iti
and journalists Fayez Sara and Ali Abdallah.

After being
formally notified of the charges under articles 285, 286, 306 and 307
of the criminal code, for which they face between three and 15 years in
prison, they were questioned for about four hours by the investigating
judge. Khalil Maatuk, one of the defence lawyers, said they denied all
the charges.

“They tried to convince the judge of the peaceful
and patriotic nature of their initiative, which aspires to bring about
democratic change without any foreign influence,”  Maatuk said.

The
judge ordered pre-trial detention. They were all transferred to Adra
prison (in a Damascus suburb), except Horani, who was taken to Duma
women’s prison.

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