Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 17:17 UK

Dissident writer Michel Kilo freed in Syria

Michel Kilo
The 69-year-old political writer said he was in good health after his release

Syrian writer and pro-democracy campaigner Michel Kilo has been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence.

He was convicted of weakening national sentiment and encouraging sectarian strife after he joined calls for Syria to recognise Lebanon's independence.

While he was in prison, Syria established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and exchanged ambassadors.

Rights groups branded the sentence as political in order to silence dissent.

Michel Kilo was released on Tuesday evening, five days after his three-year term elapsed.

He said he was in good health and had been treated well in prison, but needed time to recuperate, adding that he would continue his political activism.

The 69-year-old was among seven opposition figures jailed for signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for normalising Lebanese-Syrian relations after decades of domination by Syria of its smaller neighbour Lebanon.

The declaration, signed by 500 Lebanese and Syrians, also called for demarcating the Syrian-Lebanese border and an end to political killings in Lebanon - which Syria's foes in Lebanon blamed on Damascus. The Syrian authorities have denied any role in the killings.

Signatory and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni remains in jail after being sentenced to five years for the same charges as Kilo.

Western governments had called repeatedly for Michel Kilo's release.

Correspondents say non-violent opponents of the Syrian government are seldom made to complete their entire sentences, but others have been kept in jail past their due release dates.

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