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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05DAMASCUS5933 2005-11-14 12:59:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

LABWANI ARRAIGNED ON FIVE CHARGES AND REMAINS IN

Tags:   PGOV PHUM SY HRCS 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 005933 

SIPDIS

PASS TO A/S WELCH, NEA/ELA FOR MCVERRY AND SONTY, NSC
FOR ABRAMS, POUNDS, CROUCH,AND MDOLAN, PARIS FOR ZEYA,
LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2015
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SY HRCS
SUBJECT: LABWANI ARRAIGNED ON FIVE CHARGES AND REMAINS IN
SARG CUSTODY AS HIS POLITICAL PARTY CONTINUES TO OPERATE

REF: DAMASCUS 05884

Classified By: CDA Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b)/(d)



1. (C) SUMMARY: Prominent opposition figure Kamal Labwani
was arraigned on November 12 at the Palace of Justice.
During a two-and-a-half-hour session in criminal court,
Labwani was charged with two counts of slandering the country
in the media, one count of degrading national pride in a time
of war, one count of inciting conflict among Syria's various
religious and ethnic groups, and one count of forming a
secret society. Labwani told Poloff that he had been hit

SIPDIS
four times by an Asad family associate and told "this is for
your friends" while in Political Security custody. Labwani
remains in SARG custody at Aadra Prison, with his next court
date set for November 20. Meanwhile, Labwani's associates
continue his political work and maintain direct contact with
USG officials here and in Washington. END SUMMARY.



2. (C) Prominent human rights activist Kamal Labwani was
arraigned on November 12 at the Palace of Justice in
Damascus. Poloff, together with Labwani,s wife, daughter,
two siblings, and a number of family friends and other human
rights figures, remained in the waiting area of the
courthouse while Labwani and his defense team (comprised of
prominent human rights figures Anwar al-Bunni, Muhanned
al-Hasani, and Arab Human Rights Organization member Mohammed
Moeni) faced questioning by a judge for two and one half
hours. Labwani was formally charged with three counts of
slandering the country in the media, one count of inciting
conflict among Syria's various religious and ethnic groups,
and one count of forming a secret society. According to
Bunni and Labwani's family members, he faces a sentence of up
to 15 years in prison if found guilty.



3. (C) Bunni noted following the interrogation that the
judge's questions bore little relation to the actual charges
but were instead focused on Labwani's interactions with
American officials during his October/November visit, his
participation in a USG-funded Voluntary Visitor Program, as
well as his political beliefs, which Labwani answered
characterized defiantly as his personal opinions and not any
basis for criminal charges. Bunni also noted that in
bringing criminal charges rather than security-law charges,
the SARG was utilizing the same tactic as it had previously
with Damascus Spring detainees Riad Seif and Mamoun al-Homsi.
(NOTE: Labwani was also a member of that original Damascus
Spring group of political prisoners, but received a slightly
shorter sentence and was released in Fall 2004.)



4. (C) LABWANI'S CONDITION: Labwani, who has been in SARG
custody since November 8, reported to Poloff in a brief
exchange after the hearing that he had been hit four times by
a security official who told him "this is for your
'friends'." According to Hasani and Labwani,s family
members, the detained activist had not been given food in
four days. Bunni noted that Labwani had endured bad
conditions on the night of November 11/12 in an Aadra prison
holding cell but would be given better accommodation now that
he had been arraigned.



5. (C) LABWANI'S FAMILY GRATEFUL FOR WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT,
REQUESTS CONTINUED PUBLIC PRESSURE
Labwani's wife, brother, sister, and daughter all expressed
gratitude to the USG for its continued support of Labwani,
particularly the November 11 statement by the White House
calling for Labwani's unconditional release and President
Bush's mention of Labwani in his Veteran,s Day speech.
Labwani's family asked that the USG continue its public
campaign on his behalf, particularly calling for his welfare
and good treatment in the prison. Privately, the Labwani
family is hopeful that foreign pressure will force SARG
officials to give Labwani a cell of his own as a further
means of improving his safety in prison. Labwani's family
also encouraged the USG to ask its Arab allies to apply
pressure on the SARG on Labwani's behalf.



6. (C) Independent MP Basil Dahdouh privately praised the
high-level USG statements on behalf of Labwani. In his view,
these interventions had already had a tonic effect,
preventing any gross mistreatment and persuading the SARG to
reduce the charges against Labwani. Dahdouh told Polchief
the original charges could have sent Labwani away for life,
while under the current charges, Labwani will be subject to a
much shorter term of imprisonment and will be eligible for
bail.



7. (C) MEANWHILE, LABWANI'S TEAM CONTINUES POLITICAL
WORK: Wisam Tarif, Labwani,s associate who accompanied him
to Washington in November, updated Poloff November 11 on his
continued political work on Labwani,s behalf. He noted that
he is circulating a petition on Labwani,s behalf, which has
so far garnered 800 signatures, but has not yet decided
whether or not to publish it.



8. (C) Tarif noted that discussion continues among LDU
associates and supporters, but that the combination of
Labwani's arrest and President Bashar al-Asad's speech
threatening the opposition had caused great hesitancy among
his contacts about moving forward with public statements and
actions. Tarif claims that his mid- and lower-level contacts
within the Ba,ath Party have uttered private support for
Labwani's calls for reform. According to Tarif, opposition
senior statesman Riad al-Turk, who publicly called for Asad
to resign in early November, supports Labwani privately. An
offering of public support by Turk is key to LDU,s continued
work, Tarif added. However, Turk is resentful that Labwani
has leapfrogged over him and positioned himself as the
pre-eminent opposition leader. Tarif noted that five groups,
including the London-based Muslim Brotherhood, have offered
public words of support for Labwani.



9. (C) TARIF OFFERS ADVICE TO WASHINGTON: Tarif praised the
USG for making a public commitment to domestic issues in
Syria. He emphasized the need for USG funding of the LDU's
work and noted that he would continue discussions with USG
officials in Washington on this subject. He encouraged U.S.
officials to continue dialogue with the U.S.-based Syrian
National Council. Tarif concluded by saying that the outcome
of Labwani's November 20 trial will help determine what next
steps should be taken and by whom.
SECHE