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Syria Sentences Democracy Advocate Habib Saleh - 2002-06-24

Authorities in Syria have sentenced a writer to three years in prison for advocating greater democracy.

Syrian novelist and dissident Habib Saleh was sentenced to three years in prison after a Syrian state security court found him guilty of weakening national unity and opposing the ruling Baath party.

Human rights advocates say Mr. Saleh did nothing wrong other than to belong to a group of intellectuals who discussed democratic reforms in Syria. He was arrested more than 10 months ago and had been held since then in a prison near Damascus prior to Monday's sentencing.

Eight other dissidents were also arrested between August and September of last year, including a number of lawyers. Several of them have already been convicted of violating the constitution and have been sentenced to five years in prison.

Since coming to power two years ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has passed a number of measures aimed at liberalizing the economy, but he has also cracked down on pro-democracy advocates.