Syrian protesters gathered recently in Damascus to call for the release of political prisoners. But police quickly broke up the peaceful demonstration on June 21st, which Syrian human rights groups had declared to be “Syrian Political Prisoner Day.”
The demonstrators would have much to protest about if they were allowed to do so. According to the Human Rights Association in Syria, the country has some two-thousand political prisoners. One of them is Aktham Naisse, head of the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria. He was arrested the day after his group released a report critical of Syria’s human rights record. Mr. Naisse has reportedly had a stroke while in jail and may have gone on a hunger strike.
International human rights groups are also speaking out on abuses in Syria. Amnesty International has condemned Syria’s treatment of ethnic Kurds, including more than twenty children between the ages of fourteen and seventeen who have been jailed for months without trial. Amnesty International says the Kurdish children have been ill-treated and, in some cases, tortured.
Syrian authorities arrested hundreds of people, including children, in the wake of rioting in ethnic Kurdish areas in mid-March. More than twenty people were killed and over one-hundred wounded in the violence.
The U.S. supports the aspirations of people in the Middle East -- and all countries -- for freedom and democracy. This includes Syria, which is ruled by an authoritarian regime that denies civil and political rights and supports or harbors international terrorists. President George W. Bush says that a newly sovereign Iraq is pointing the way toward greater political freedom in the region:
“The rise of Iraqi democracy is bringing hope to reformers across the Middle East, and sending a very different message to Tehran and Damascus. A free and sovereign Iraq is a decisive defeat for extremists and terrorists -- because their hateful ideology will lose its appeal in a free and tolerant and successful country.”
For millions of people in the Middle East, says President Bush, “freedom has been denied too long. And [the U.S.] will do all in [its] power to help them find the blessings of liberty.”