The last week was by all means a black week for Syrian liberties and human rights. Following the sentencing of the prominent lawyer and human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni to five years in jail for “spreading hostile information and joining an illegal political group.” The regime's crackdown on Syrian dissidents continued even stronger, Dr Kamal Labwani was sentenced to life time in prison with hard labor [charges were “undermining national security”], which was communed to 12 years. Ironically, at the very same time, President Bashar al-Assad was giving his speech to the newly elected parliament, a mere 15 minutes away from the State Security Court where all the political prisoners are put on trial. In that same session the parliament rubber stamped its first duty, the nomination of the president for his second term in office, which will be decided in a referendum later this month.
And just as I was writing this roundup, news arrived from Damascus about activists Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, who were sentenced to three years in jail. The veteran activists were convicted of “spreading false information, encouraging sectarian strife and weakening national sentiment.”
It is by far, the worst crackdown on civil liberties and activists in the country since 2001, when the authorities cracked down on what has since been called “Damascus Spring”.
Earlier last week, the prisoners of conscience at Damascus Central Prison [‘Adra Prison] sent a public statement, and a letter to the world, following the sentencing of Anwar al-Bunni. The Syrian blogsphere republished the letter in many of its blogs to spread the word, and help rally support for their cause…
We are prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus Central Prison, lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, writer Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal Labwani, activists Mahmoud Issa, and Faek Al Mir, and Professor Aref Dalila who could not be reached as he spends his sixth year in solitary confinement. After the sentencing of lawyer Anwar Al Bunni on 24 April 2007, we would like to say thank you and greet our families, friends, and all the people, groups, committees, organizations, associations, parties and political assemblies of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in Syria and the Arab world. We thank and greet the official representatives, countries, media and websites that support us by protesting our trials and arrests, and denying the accusations against our colleague Anwar Al Bunni.
The sentencing of Labwani for 12 years, was especially shocking because of its harshness as well as the inhumane conditions Dr. Labwani has been kept in.
Yet when will the Syrian people reach their limit? What is it going to take to light a fire under our collective Syrian asses? Until that happens, the Labawnis, Kilos and others, courageous individuals willing to speak truth to power will remain easy targets to a paranoid, tyrannical regime.
Rime Allaf, writes about the heavy price of civility, and notes that the Syrian regime is most vicious against its own people when it is comfortable, and relieved from external or internal pressure. Contrary to the common excuses that many bring out, that the regime is cracking down on dissidents to face up to international pressure without internal nuisance.
Indeed, it is a mistake to conclude that the regime acts more harshly when it is under pressure; on the contrary, it is never so severe as when it has the time to “take care” of its citizens.
During the so-called Damascus Spring and the ensuing Damascus Winter, pre-9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq, when today’s March 14 leaders were singing the praises of Syria’s entire ruling class and bowing to representatives big and small, when the nouveau régime was thought to be full of promise and Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and other EU leaders couldn’t wait to take Bashar Assad under their wing, when George W. Bush was mostly concentrating on his own turf, this was the period when Syrian civil society activists were harrassed and arrested, including two prominent MPs who had their parliamentary immunity revoked. Syria was not under pressure then, but this did not save Riad Seif, Mamoun Homsi and Aref Dalila.
There also is a very vibrant and informative discussion in the comments section of that post.
We will stay in politics, but we move to yet another grave concern to every Syrian, The occupied Golan Heights. Since the 1967 six-day war with Israel, and consequent occupation and annexation, the Golan Heights has been the main influential cause of Syrian politics. Returning the Golan Heights is one of the few things no Syrian government had been able to shake from the heart of Syrians.
But since the War on Terror was brought up, the Peace Process has almost been put on the back burner, and so has the Syrian dream of skiing on the slopes of Mount Hermon.
Israel has been exploiting her war victory and occupation of the Golan for 40 years. Economically, the Golan has yielded enormous benefits in agricultural produce, tourist receipts and clean water. A peace deal based on a gradual but complete return of the Golan to Syria over 20 years, without destruction of existing infrastructure or compensation on either side, is both possible and feasible. Both sides must see opportunity in promoting peaceful coexistence and regional economic cooperation, but also a serious and constant danger of armed conflict and possible defeat if they fail to make progress.
Some analysts have since argued that the Syrian regime is only interested in its own survival (a point which certainly holds merit) and that it would use negotiations with Israel and engagement with others merely as a means to an end – the end being its longevity and security. As long as the Syrian regime is engaged and negotiating, goes the logic, it escapes the pressure of the Hariri investigation and tribunal, amongst others.
There are some flaws in these arguments. For one, it is simplistic to imagine that the Syrian regime would only prefer the status quo to peace with Israel; on the contrary, there is merit to the case that the retrieval of the Golan Heights would give the regime renewed legitimacy, and a popularity which would allow it to ride a wave of acceptance for many years. In fact, this seems to be validated by the very generous concessions the regime seems willing to give just to rekindle the peace process. While this could be purely tactical, given Israel’s public refusal to give back the land it occupied in 1967, the regime is clearly prepared for a scenario of peaceful relations.
I have previously expressed my dislike of and disagreement with a few blogs on political grounds. However, blocking them is wrong and nobody has the right to do so. I have made that choice on my own and refused to read them long before Blogspot was blacklisted. I feel exactly the same about pornography and “morally” questionable material. I would not go purposely on a quest to find pornographic sites. However, I stand by their right to exist and the right of any adult to browse these sites till he or she drops. Is it not strange that in a city like Dubai, where soliciting the services of a prostitute is as easy as ordering a pizza by phone, internet sites are blocked because of their morally unacceptable content? What about the other Arab countries from where I keep getting hits everyday on a long gone post about Fairuz. Through search engines and from behind firewalls, these maverick browsers were looking for a “smooth ass”. Who has the right to deny these poor souls their right to see an ass? I have previously made a joke about this particular incidence but now I repent.