Sunday, April 29, 2007

A letter from prison

Click on photos to enlarge

Fares has just posted this letter on his blog from our prisoners of conscience who are languishing in a rotten jail near Damascus. Fellow Syrian bloggers, kindly disseminate widely and forward to your local press. Our prisoners expect nothing less as a show of support. No action means the authorities can continue to arrest, torture and detain anyone for years under emergency powers with impunity.

From the Prisoners of Conscience in Damascus Central Prison Al Adra
April 29th, 2007

We are prisoners of conscience and opinion in Damascus Central Prison, lawyer Anwar Al Bunni, writer Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal Labwani, activists Mahmoud Issa, and Faek Al Mir, and Professor Aref Dalila who could not be reached as he spends his sixth year in solitary confinement. After the sentencing of lawyer Anwar Al Bunni on 24 April 2007, we would like to say thank you and greet our families, friends, and all the people, groups, committees, organizations, associations, parties and political assemblies of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians in Syria and the Arab world. We thank and greet the official representatives, countries, media and websites that support us by protesting our trials and arrests, and denying the accusations against our colleague Anwar Al Bunni.

We would like to send our heartfelt greetings and thanks to all of you and hope that your noble and brave attitude will not stop only with denying these accusations and supporting our cause. Our case as prisoners of conscience is part of the continuing crisis of basic freedoms and human rights in Syria that began with the Emergency Law 44 years ago. This crisis reached its height in the 1980s and again today by an increase in tyranny, arrests and the suppression of fundamental freedoms.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have paid a horrible price, some with their lives, others with the loss of years and youth from inhumane prison conditions and cruel torture. Still more have suffered by being forced to escape the tyranny or enter into voluntary exile, another difficult experience. Other Syrians stayed, throwing salt on their wounds and binding their tongues to save themselves pain. Those that couldn’t live with their tongues tied faced a future in prison, homeless and alone. For the few people that climbed to the top of the tyranny and darkened Syrian society, they have contributed to the corruption, theft and poverty that have strangled the necks of the people.

The denial of fundamental human rights in Syria is the main case that we work for and your support for prisoners of conscience is part of this fight. Fighting for the release of these prisoners is a duty, not only to decrease their suffering and their families’ pain, but also to encourage others by knowing they are not alone. We must give society hope, making sure its doors and streets are not closed. With the power of hope it is possible to fight the crisis of freedom and human rights in Syria in a peaceful way.

Terrorism is the enemy of mankind and civilization itself. It flourishes in societies that lack freedom and close doors to peaceful expression, leaving violence as a way of expressing oneself. Inside these societies suffering from poverty, where they find no well being on earth they will turn to the heavens and the answers that it may provide them. The lack of basic freedoms and human rights coupled with poverty are two faces of the same coin in the Third World. Syria is at the forefront of totalitarian countries, ruled from an isolated point of view with its citizens either idle passengers or doomed to be labeled traitors.

The lack of freedom, means of expression, political participation and accountability leads to the growth of corruption, despotism, looting of public funds, rampant poverty and the collapse of moral values. The real fight against terrorism must not only be about combating extremist ideas. These ideas have existed throughout history, though they will always remain on the periphery, isolated and shunned, unless they find fertile soil to take root and grow. If they are allowed to develop in the soil of society, they will spread like toxic plants, poisoning communities and innocent people.

Addressing the root causes of terrorism requires opening up pathways to free expression and the peaceful exchange of ideas. By giving people unfettered freedom we can blunt the sword of injustice, oppression and domination to grant full political participation, a hand in future decision-making, accountability, the preservation of equality and a life of dignity. This would make the world a safer place and improve international security.

Syrians have paid a high price for their rights and freedom and we hope to be the last group forced to pay this price to help the great Syrian people. To do this we need more than your solidarity and denunciations. We need constant and tireless efforts to compel Syrian authorities to respect human rights, international law and the treaties and agreements it has signed which demand freedom of expression and opinion. The release of political prisoners is a necessary first step, including the abolition of the State Emergency Law and other such laws like Decree 49 signed in 1980 or the Hasakah Accountability Decree of 1962. Syria must abolish the State Security Court, compensate those that have suffered, create an independent judiciary, end torture and hold perpetrators responsible. They must stop political arrests and ensure the freedom of the press, allowing political participation and the formation of parties, organizations and civil society.

They must stop the looting of public funds and policies of impoverishment and domination. However, these steps are just the beginning necessary to put Syria on the path to security and move towards development, progress and the protection of national unity that now suffers from division and tension. These rifts and divisions are now impossible to conceal, despite the dancing and celebrations and empty rhetoric about a healthy society that in reality is sick and suffering. As prisoners of conscience and opinion we are apprehensive about the future of our homeland, our children and our very decision to shape Syria’s future. However, we will not be deterred by threats, intimidation, and the repression of long years of imprisonment that we face to save our country and ourselves

Adra Prison. 28-4-2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pretend to be a democrat or else..

By some accounts the turnout in the Syrian parliamentary elections last weekend was as low as 10%, but no one really knows. In any case, should this really have surprised anyone? When the Syrian constitution tells people that they must always "vote" the Baath Party back into power, no wonder that most choose to stay at home and watch a movie. What prisoner would vote for his jailer? Why pretend that the jailer needs the prisoner's vote in the first place?

It is interesting that the authorities, who exercise total control over the population, have openly admitted that the turnout was low. You can tell something is not quite right. Such uncharacteristic openness really throws you off balance; have they, all of a sudden, turned honest and transparent?

In the past, people were bullied into voting so the authorities could give an air of legitimacy to the results. This time around they have played it differently. Coersion appears to have been minimal and focused on squeezing out "undesirable" free-thinking independents rather than forcing large numbers of people to vote and then rigging the results.

The new official game is all about pretending to be democratic and saturating the atmosphere with election hype and American-style fanfare (complete with cheap, over-sized poster and banner advertising) and whipping up public interest in a sterile non-event. It is all about creating a world of make-believe and engaging the public and local and foreign media in a preposterous game of charade. Everyone knows Syria is not a democracy and as long as the Baath Party and the Assad clan are around probably never will be. So, the regime dictates that we must all pretend to be democratic and act as though we were!

Anyone who is familiar with mass psychology and public control techniques cannot but admire this regime. Its ability to persuade, brainwash or force people to play along in the game of transforming real misery into pretend nirvana is legendary. When the public re-awaken, complain or resist the game becomes more outrageous and dangerous. You could be locked up and persecuted for refusing to acknowledge the leader's wisdom and celebrate his great achievements. You could be harassed for using language that sees a glass half empty rather than half full, for describing social and economic problems as they really are instead of wishing that inshallah tomorrow will be better under the astute stewardship of our rulers and for questioning official policy or decisions on any issue.

The result is complete national paralysis and impotence. The only voices that are heard in the country are those of pretenders and regime sympathisers. The brave real ones are let out only when they promise to don a mask and "play along".