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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Two Syrian dissidents jailed
Syrians show their support for Bashar Assad's presidency
There were hopes for more freedom under Bashar
Two leading Syrian dissidents have been jailed after being found guilty of trying to corrupt the constitution.


The sentences are aimed at silencing and suppressing voices

Defence lawyer Khalil Maatuk
Aref Dalila, an economist, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while human rights activist Walid Bunni got a five-year jail term.

The two men were among 10 dissidents rounded up a year ago - four of whom have already been jailed.

The head of the Committees for Defending Human Rights in Syria, Aktham Naisse, said the sentences fuelled concern "about the future of human rights in Syria".

'Unjust'

The two men were convicted on charges of trying to change the constitution, inciting armed rebellion and spreading false information.

Mr Dalila, who has called for political and economic reforms, is said to be seriously ill.

His wife described the sentence as "a farce and unjust".

Mr Bunni, a founding member of the Syrian human rights association, was an active participant in political meetings.

"They are unjust condemnations which have no legal basis. They are aimed at silencing and suppressing voices," defence lawyer Khalil Maatuk said.

Although restraints on Syrian society initially eased when President Bashar Assad came to power two years ago, most of the discussion forums which sprang up have since been closed.

Correspondents say this is a sign of a return to the hardline policies of President Assad's predecessor and father, Hafez.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Middle East
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
24 Nov 01 | Middle East
19 Nov 01 | Middle East
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