|05DAMASCUS6597||2005-12-20 15:00:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Damascus|
VZCZCXYZ0001 OO RUEHWEB DE RUEHDM #6597 3541500 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 201500Z DEC 05 FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6267 INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0559
C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 006597
1. (C) SUMMARY: The military court trial of opposition
figure Hassan Abdul Azim began on December 18, as he faced
charges of publication of material by an illegal
organization. He is not in SARG custody. His next court date
is set for January 19. Human rights organizations are also
reporting that detained activist Mahmoud Sarem reportedly
began a hunger strike on December 1, and that Kurdish
prisoners may be starting a separate strike. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) MILITARY TRIAL OF OPPOSITION FIGURE BEGINS:
Prominent opposition figure and Damascus Declaration
signatory Hassan Abdul Azim appeared in a packed courtroom at
the Mezzeh Military Court on December 18 to face charges.
Abdul Azim, head of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union and
spokesman for the opposition umbrella group National
Democratic Front (NDF), was charged with publication of
material by an illegal organization. He faces up to two
years in prison, according to human rights lawyer Anwar
al-Bunni. The charges are in connection with the August
detention of Hassan Zeino, who was arrested for carrying NDF
materials (reftel). Bunni noted that the military court took
action against Abdul Azim after he appeared before the Homs
Military Court to defend Zeino, claiming responsibility for
the publication of an NDF newsletter which Zeino had in his
possession at the time of his arrest.
3. (C) This move appears to be the end of the SARG's
previous tolerance of the NDF, whose member parties are not
legally registered due the SARG's refusal to allow their
registration. Over 120 lawyers joined Abdul Azim's defense
team and tens of other civil society activists turned out to
support Abdul Azim. Poloff also attended. The defense team
filed two papers with the presiding judge, protesting that
Abdul Azim, as a civilian, should not face military charges.
They also insisted, citing Syrian statutes, that the
presiding judge, a Ba'ath Party member, should not be allowed
to rule on the case. Abdul Azim requested that the next
trial session be held on January 19 to coincide with the
ongoing military court trial of fellow activist and Damascus
Declaration signatory Haithem al-Maleh (reftel). Abdul Azim
has not been detained.
4. (C) POLITICAL DETAINEES THREATEN HUNGER STRIKES:
Multiple human rights activists are reporting that detained
civil society activist Mahmoud Sarem reportedly began a
hunger strike on December 1. Sarem, a 68 year old writer and
doctor, was detained in mid-September by SARG authorities and
is currently being held in the political branch of Aadra
prison. According to human-rights activists Anwar al-Bunni
and Muhannad al-Hasani, Sarem told family members in late
November that he would begin refusing meals on December 1.
As Sarem's family is granted only one visit per month, they
have been unable to confirm whether or not he began the
strike. Bunni and Hasani noted to PolOff that the State
Security Court has also refused to allow Sarem to grant a
power of attorney to human rights lawyers, thus delaying his
case. Bunni also noted that a group of Kurdish prisoners
were planning to begin hunger strikes at Aadra prison as well.