Syrian Human Rights Activist Slams Gov't
Associated Press -Posted on Sun, Oct. 24, 2004
DAMASCUS, Syria - Syria's leading human rights activist on Sunday slammed authorities here for putting him on trial, saying they are determined to convict and imprison him in violation of the constitution.
Aktham Naisse, who is charged with spreading false information, forming an underground association with links to international human rights groups and opposing the ruling Baath party, was scheduled to face the first day of his trial Sunday.
But the trial, which could lead to Naisse being jailed for between three and 15 years if convicted, was adjourned until Jan. 26 on a request from the activist's lawyers.
"It seems that the court is serious about convicting me in an illegal and unconstitutional way," Naisse told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after a brief court appearance in Damascus.
Since taking office in July 2000, President Bashar Assad has eased restrictions on political life that were in place since his late father, Hafez Assad, came to power in 1970.
But while freeing hundreds of political prisoners and initially allowing political discussion groups to hold small indoor gatherings to discuss pro-democracy reforms, the younger Assad has also clamped down on pro-democracy activists.
Naisse, who is the chairman of the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria, called on Syrian authorities to take "real and positive steps" toward reforming this hard-line Arab country.
"Until now there are no serious steps toward introducing progress in Syria," said Naisse, who was arrested in April but released four months later on bail pending his trial. "Yes, there are steps but they are not serious enough to make us actually feel ... (there is) genuine progress."
His lawyer, Anwar al-Bunni, said in a statement that the continuation of Naisse's trial demonstrates that Syrian authorities are determined "to suppress freedom and to punish whoever tries to uncover the nature of human rights violations in Syria."