Syria: Releasing Detainees, Government Seeks to Meet Opposition Demands

With the release of some detainees, the Syrian government has met at least partially one of the demands of the Syrian opposition, according to Reuters, which interviewed Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria on Thursday.

Hassan Abdel Azim, who is 81 years old, and Hazem al-Nahar were released on Monday.  On Tuesday, Fayez Sara, Kamal Sheikho, and George Sabra, arrested during the protests in recent weeks, were also freed.  Still detained is Riad Seif, a former MP and businessman, arrested on 6 May after he participated in a small protest in Damascus.  Seif, who has cancer, has been sent to prison several times since 2001.  Laureate of the 2003 Weimar Human Rights Prize, he had been released from prison in late 2010.

The release of detainees followed a meeting between the Syrian opposition and Bouthaina Shaaban, the media adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, which Shaaban had mentioned in an interview with a New York Times reporter.

Besides the release of prominent civil rights activists, also on the agenda at the meeting was the need to pass a new press law, a law for the establishment of new parties, and a new electoral law, said Shaaban.  She announced a national dialogue, which should begin as soon as possible, “possibly next week.”  Civil rights activist Louay Hussein, who also participated in the meeting with Shaaban, said that activists demanded that the government permit peaceful protests and sit-ins.  Meetings must be also permitted, so that protesters can come to an agreement on a political program and choose their own representatives who will be tasked to convey their demands to government officials.  Hussein said to Reuters that activists demanded the withdrawal of plainclothes security forces from all locations and the media’s access to the towns and villages that have been made off limits to them.  The release of civil rights activists is a good sign, in the opinion of Hussein.

The Syrians with whom I have talked in Damascus welcomed a national dialogue.  “We, the Communist Party, have been calling for a national dialogue for a long time,” says a party member, who wishes to remain anonymous.  The original protests of people were legitimate, says the party member, especially since the economic development of recent years drove many into deeper poverty.  Another Syrian tells me that he is cautiously optimistic.  Noting that history shows that it takes time to make reform in Syria, he hopes that the dialogue will be successful.

Meanwhile, Syrian media reported that the government established a commission to draw up a new electoral law, consisting of government officials and academic experts from various universities.  Drawing upon election laws in other countries, the commission is supposed to study changes to be made in the Syrian election law.  The commission is to submit a draft law in two weeks.  New elections for Syrian Parliament are expected to be held in July or August.

The original article “Gefangene freigelassen” was published in junge Welt on 13 May 2011.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]

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