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Syria Arrests 30 in Protest Against Emergency Laws - 2004-03-08


Syrian security officials have arrested a group of some 30 protesters who were demonstrating against the country's oppressive emergency laws. The protest marred the 41st anniversary celebrations of the Ba'ath party's rise to power in Syria. Demonstrations are rare in Syria, where the government exercises tight control over political activities.

Human Rights Watch says the political dissidents aren't likely to get fair treatment by Syria's judiciary.

The associate director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, Jenny Sherry, said Syria's restrictive state of emergency laws, the very laws the protesters want to end, make the prospect of a fair trial for the detainees unlikely. "Certainly in no way are political prisoners fairly tried in Syria. For years now they have been brought before the special state security court. I have personally been inside that court and watched trials, they are absolutely unfair, with no minimal international standards or guarantees for a fair trial, and most importantly there is no right of appeal of security court decisions. Since 2001 the security court has been specifically targeting reformist members of parliament and other human rights activists and sentencing them to long prison terms," she said.

According to Amnesty International, thousands of political prisoners are languishing in Syrian jails.

The United States has warned it plans to impose sanctions against Syria, for supporting terrorist groups, failing to control its border with Iraq, and occupying Lebanon.

But Ms. Sherry said civil liberties do not figure in the U.S. calls for change. "I think the way Damascus sees the situation in terms of U.S. pressure is they are under the gun for these weapons-related issues and the Syrian role in Lebanon and they are not hearing a human rights message, which in a way gives the authorities a green light to do what they did today," she said.

Supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad decorated streets with flags and signs of support for the Ba'athist government, which came to power in Syria following a military coup in 1963.