The Syrian government continues to crack down hard on human rights and democracy advocates. Most recently, a Syrian military court sentenced political prisoner Kamal Labwani to an additional three years for allegedly insulting Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. Moreover, Syria's high court upheld Mr. Labwani's earlier twelve-year sentence for calling for political reform.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the court's decision to extend Mr. Labwani's prison sentence "demonstrates the Syrian regime's contempt for human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law." Mr. McCormack went on to condemn Syria's legal system as being "characterized by politically motivated prosecutions and devoid of legitimate standards."
Many other Syrian activists are also behind bars for advocating for political change in Syria. Thirteen members of the Damascus Declaration National Council have been unjustly imprisoned. They were arrested in December 2007 following a meeting of more than one hundred sixty representatives of Syria's political opposition and human rights activists. They gathered to show their support for the Damascus Declaration for Democratic and National Change – a document that calls for basic rights and freedoms for all Syrians.
Other political activists imprisoned for their views include writer and journalist Michel Kilo, human rights lawyer and activist Anwar al-Bunni, and pro-democracy dissident Mahmoud Issa. In April 2007, Anwar al-Bunni was sentenced to five years on the charge of "disseminating false information likely to undermine the morale of the nation." Three weeks later, Michel Kilo and Mahmud Issa received a three-year prison sentence for "weakening national sentiment." Pro-democracy advocate, Aref Dalilah, was arrested in 2001 and continues to serve a ten-year sentence for criticizing the government.
The United States expects the Syrian government to live up to its international obligations and cease its harassment of Syrians who are peacefully seeking to bring about democratic and political reform in their country. The Syrian government should start by releasing immediately all its political prisoners.