AI Index: MDE 24/045/2004 (Public)
News Service No: 156
17 June 2004
Syria: Amnesty International repeats its call for the release of five
prisoners of conscience held for their peaceful use of the Internet
On the eve of the final hearing of 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri before the
Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) on 20 June, Amnesty International is
repeating its call for his immediate and unconditional release -- along
with that of four other prisoners of conscience, Muhannad Qutaysh, Haytham
Qutaysh, Yahia al-Aws and Mas'oud Hamid, held solely for peaceful exercise
of their right to free expression over the Internet. 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri's
lawyers have not been granted access to all court documents, despite their
repeated demands. Amnesty International considers trials before the SSSC
to be grossly unfair.
'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri, who is 32 years old, was
arrested on 23 February 2003 and reportedly beaten in custody before being
transferred to Sednaya prison where he continues to be held without access
to his family or lawyers. He is charged with "disseminating in Syria false
and exaggerated news that sap the morale of the nation" in accordance with
Article 286 of the Penal Code. The charges are based on his sending via
the Internet articles obtained mostly from Akhbar al-Sharq internet
site -- www.thisissyria.net. The material carried by Akhbar al-Sharq
is regarded by the Syrian authorities to be "detrimental to the reputation
and security of the nation" and "full of ideas and views opposed to the
system of government in Syria".
Three other Syrians imprisoned in Sednaya and being unfairly tried
on similar grounds are Muhannad Qutaysh [previously spelled as Koutaish
in MDE 24/017/2004, 12 March 2004], his brother Haytham, and Yahia al-Aws
[previously spelled as Alous in MDE 24/017/2004, 12 March 2004].
All were arrested, over one and a half years ago, reportedly for sending
articles to an electronic newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. On 6
June, their trial before the SSSC was again postponed, to 25 July.
Muhannad Qutaysh and Yahia al-Aws are both charged with "receiving secret
information on behalf of a foreign state which threatens the security of
Syria", and "publishing false news outside of Syria"; Haytham and
Muhannad Qutaysh are both charged with "encouraging the transfer of secret
information"; and Haythem Qutaysh is also charged with "writing which
threatens the security of Syria and her relations with foreign states".
Muhannad Qutaysh and Yahia al-Aws had reportedly been writing articles,
using pseudonyms, on corruption, politics, economics and human rights
issues in Syria.
Student Mas'oud Hamid is a fifth Syrian imprisoned for reported
"unlawful" use of the Internet. Mas'oud Hamid was arrested on 24 July 2003
while sitting an exam at Damascus University. It is believed that he is
being held incommunicado in solitary confinement at 'Adra Prison, near
Damascus. It is thought that his detention relates to his alleged posting