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Monday, 19 November, 2001, 12:43 GMT
Syria frees political prisoners
Syrians holding portraits of Hafez al-Assad
The amnesty marks Hafez al-Assad's rise to power
The Syrian authorities have released nine political prisoners as part of a presidential amnesty, according to a Syrian human rights group.

The detainees belong to the Syrian Communist Labour Party and in some cases had been held since 1987.

Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad ordered the prisoners' release
They were freed under pardons marking the 31st anniversary of the late President Hafez al-Assad's rise to power.

One of the prisoners released on Sunday evening, Akram Bounni, told the AFP news agency he had spent more than 14 years in jail and was freed without completing his sentence.

Mr Bounni called for the release of his colleagues, some of whom, he said, had been in prison for 27 years.

Aktham Naesa, president of the Defence Committees for Human Rights in Syria, said prisoners from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the Iraqi branch of the pan-Arab Baath party were also expected to be released in the coming days.

Crackdown

Syria imprisoned many members of Islamist groups after crushing an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982, in which 25,000 people are believed to have died.

Mr Naesa said there was no indication that Syria would free a separate group of opposition figures arrested in September after calling for greater political freedom.

They include two liberal members of parliament, Maamun Homsi and Riad Seif.

The MPs have been on trial since the end of October, charged with trying to change Syria's constitution by illegal means.

If convicted, they face sentences of between five years and life in jail.

Human rights organisations estimate there are 1,300 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syria.

See also:

16 Nov 00 | Middle East
Political amnesty in Syria
26 Jul 00 | Middle East
Bashar frees political prisoners
16 Nov 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Bashar's slow, steady start
11 Jun 00 | Middle East
Bashar al-Assad: Eyeing the future
13 Jun 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Bashar's challenges
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Syria
19 Jul 00 | Middle East
Syria timeline
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