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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06DAMASCUS4613
2006-09-21 16:44:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

SYRIA HUMAN RIGHTS UPDATE: LABWANI IN COURT,

Tags:   PHUM  PGOV  SY 
pdf how-to read a cable
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 004613 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

PARIS FOR WALLER, LONDON FOR TSOU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2016
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SY
SUBJECT: SYRIA HUMAN RIGHTS UPDATE: LABWANI IN COURT,
FILMMAKER DETAINED, KURDS ON TRIAL,

REF: A. DAMASCUS 4200

B. DAMASCUS 4482

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Michael H. Corbin for reasons 1.4 b/d



1. (C) Summary: Jailed political activist Kamal Lawbani
appeared in court September 19, as an assistant public
prosecutor reaffirmed potential capital changes against him.
The public prosecutor's statement seemed to shift the basis
for the charges from two televised interviews given by
Labwani to October-November 2005 meetings with U.S. officials
and in Europe. The next court date is October 29. In other
news, a Syrian filmmaker was briefly detained September 18
and banned from travel after the recent airing on
Al-Arabiyyeh television of his documentary critical of the
Syrian Ba'ath Party. On September 7, a Damascus military
judge postponed for the second time the start of the trial of
49 Kurdish defendants charged for their involvement in June
2005 demonstrations in Hassake against the assassination of
Kurdish civil society activist and Sunni religious leader
Sheikh Mashook al-Khaznawi. Kurdish activists say court
authorities are deliberately delaying the trial to cause
hardship by leaving the defendants in limbo. End Summary.



2. (C) LABWANI TRIAL: Jailed political activist Kamal
Labwani appeared September 19 in criminal court. The session
consisted of the reading of a four-page statement by the
assistant public prosecutor, reaffirming the April 29
indictment against Labwani of having contact with a foreign
power and encouraging the foreign power to invade Syria, a
charge that could carry the death sentence. The public
prosecutor's statement seemed to shift the basis for the
charges from Labwani,s two televised interviews on Al-Hurra
and Al-Mustaquila to October-November 2005 meetings with
European and U.S. officials, including U.S. Deputy National
Security Advisor J.D. Crouch and then-U.S. Ambassador to
Syria Margaret Scobey (and Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader
Ali Bayanouni in Europe--a meeting confirmed after the
session by Labwani's brother, who added that Kamal met
Bayanouni to discuss the Damascus Declaration and press for
Muslim Brotherhood commitment to a secular Syria. Bayanouni,
in turn, pressed for Labwani's help mediating between the
Brotherhood and the U.S. Administration, said Labwani's
brother.). According to the prosecution's statement, Labwani
called in his meetings with USG officials for political and
diplomatic pressure on Syria, including the broadening of
sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act. Given this and
the U.S. relationship with Israel, Labwani,s meetings and
U.S. pressure on Syria constituted an attack against the
country, according to the prosecutor's statement.



3. (C) After the session, Labwani,s lawyer Muhanned
al-Hasani thanked Poloff for a letter from the Charge,
explaining the Voluntary and International Visitor's Program,

with reference to past participation in the program by an
unnamed current SARG minister and a past minister.
Al-Hassani reiterated, however, his desire for sworn
depositions by Crouch and Scobey but suggested they might
merely state that during meetings with USG officials, Labwani
never sought to incite any attack or aggression against
Syria. Labwani,s family said that the prosecutor's
statement suggested that Labwani was being held symbolically
accountable for the Arab world's struggle with Israel (and,
by association, the United States). The next court date is
scheduled for October 29.



4. (SBU) FILMMAKER DETAINED: Syrian documentary director
Omar Amiralai was detained for 13 hours on September 18 and
then barred from traveling to Jordan to work on his latest
film, according to media reports quoting local human rights
activists. Amiralai said that security officials questioned
him at length about the recent airing on al-Arabiyyeh
satellite TV channel of his 2004 documentary film called "The
Flood," which indirectly criticizes Ba'ath Party principles,
according to press reports.



5. (C) KURDISH DEFENDANTS' TRIAL POSTPONED: A Mezzeh
Military Court judge postponed for the second time on
September 7 the start of the trial of 49 Kurdish defendants
charged for their involvement in June 2005 demonstrations in
Hassake against the alleged SARG involvement in the
assassination of Kurdish civil society activist and Sunni
religious leader Sheikh Mashook al-Khaznawi. The judge cited
the absence of some of the defendants as a reason for the

DAMASCUS 00004613 002 OF 002


trial's postponement. Kurdish human rights organizers at the
trial claimed, however, that Syrian authorities are causing
hardship by leaving the defendants in limbo.



6. (C) DAMASCUS-BEIRUT DECLARATION DETAINEE RELEASED: The
September 5 release of Mohamed Mahfoudh (reftel B) came after
his lawyers successfully appealed a lower court decision
denying bail to the Damascus-Beirut Declaration signatory,
according to his lawyers who spoke to an Embassy FSN.
Mahfoudh neither denied signing the petition (as did three
other jailed activists released in mid-July), nor did he sign
any petition asking to be released, according to the lawyers.
Declaration signatories who remain in prison include Syrian
intellectual Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar
al-Bunni.



7. (SBU) WRITER MAHMOUD SAREM RELEASED: Separately, local
human rights organizations announced the September 20 release
on bail of writer Mahmoud Sarem who was arrested in September
2005 and charged with publicly criticizing the government and
the President.
CORBIN