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07DAMASCUS961 2007-09-23 06:18:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
Cable title:  

SYRIAN MISTREATMENT OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

Tags:   PGOV PHUM PREL SY 
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1. (C) Summary. According to a variety of credible human
rights contacts, the Syrian regime continues to stonewall
requests by Riad Seif, Anwar al-Bunni, Michel Kilo and other
high profile political prisoners for medical treatment. In
addition, prison officials have stepped up harassment of a
prominent human rights lawyer working for several jailed
activists. Following the positive European response for
demarches regarding Riad Seif, we will comparte notes with
European Embassies here and seek additional messages on
political prisoners and activists. End Summary.



2. (C) Riad Seif Update: The Syrian government continues to
deny Riad Seif permission to travel abroad for medical
treatment of his prostate cancer. He told us in a meeting
last week he had heard the Europeans were demarching the
Syrian government on his behalf but were reluctant to issue a
public statement. He said he met German Development Minister
Wieczorek-Zeul during her August 28-29 visit to Damascus, and
she informed him that she had raised his case with President
Asad. Seif said he had also met with visiting EU
parliamentarians who promised to press his case. Seif told
us he had subsequently been contacted by Syrian Military
Intelligence and offered permission to travel abroad in
exchange for a public statement criticizing U.S. human rights
abuses (e.g. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and policy in Iraq). He
refused this deal and commented that it was a sign the
government was feeling pressure. He added that he had a
two-to-three week supply of hormone treatment remaining. As
a last resort, Seif said he might consider crossing the Iraqi
border and traveling to Europe for treatment. He thanked us
for our efforts and repeated his request for statements by
members of Congress with whom he has met.



3. (C) Political Prisoners in Need of Medical Treatment: On
September 19, Poloffs met with the wife, Raghida, and
brother, Akram, of imprisoned civil society activist and
human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni. Both Raghida and Akram
said that Anwar was suffering from acute rheumatism in his
leg. To make matters worse, prison regulations mandate the
assignment of bunks based on seniority (i.e., length of time
served in prison), which prison officials cite to prevent
Anwar from occupying a lower bunk. Currently, Anwar is
assigned an upper bunk, a place he can only reach with
extreme difficulty given his rheumatism. Akram said he had
been able to arrange a telephone conversation between a
doctor and his brother, which resulted in a prescription for
medicine that had helped some. The doctor has been unable to
examine Anwar in person. Akram said he and a lawyer had
requested a meeting with the Minister of Justice to request
doctor access and a lower bunk, but thus far the SARG
response has been to feign ignorance.



4. (C) Two other political prominent prisoners continue to
require urgent medical care that has thus far been refused.
67-year-old author Michel Kilo has been in prison since May


2006. He has since developed a nerve problem in his arm
which causes him pain and remains untreated. 64- year-old
Aref Dalila has been in prison since 2001 when he was
imprisoned with Riad Seif and others during the crackdown on
the Damascus Spring. His heart condition not changed and the
SARG continues to refuse him treatment.



5. (C) Intimidation of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer: The
SARG is also intimidating one of the most prominent lawyers
representing political prisoners. On September 19,
President of the Syrian Human Rights Organization Muhanad
al-Hasani, and legal representative of Kilo, Bunni, Dalila,
and imprisoned political reformer Kamal Labwani told us that
he recently met with these jailed activists to discuss their
mistreatment. As Hasani was leaving the prison, guards
detained him for over an hour, threatened him physically, and
seized his notes detailing the prison mistreatment of
political prisoners. (Hasani noted that under Syrian law,
lawyers are normally allowed to take notes and/or receive
statements from their clients in prison.) Later in the day,
Hasani,s office in Damascus was surrounded by police who
tried to remove the nameplate from above his office.



6. (C) Comment: We plan to highlight these incidents in our
2007 Human Rights Report, but unilateral pressure has yielded
limited results. We believe that European demarches on human
rights cases have annoyed SARG officials who are focused on

DAMASCUS 00000961 002 OF 002


the possibility of expanding economic and development ties.
In concert with the Europeans here, we will seek to develop
messages for European capitals on the SARG's continued
intransigence regarding mistreatment and denial of medical
attention.
CORBIN