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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Syrian dissident walks free
By Magdi Abdel Hadi
BBC correspondent in Aleppo, Syria

President Bashar al-Assad surrounded by military officers on Martyrs Day
Syria's emergency legislation has been in place more than 40 years
One of Syria's most prominent civil rights activists has walked free after appearing in court charged with defaming the state authorities.

Abdul Razzaq Eid, an academic and well known critic of the ruling Baath Party, had written in one of his articles that a "corrupt clique" in Syria had stolen 95% of the country's national wealth.

Mr Eid was being tried at a military tribunal in accordance with an emergency law in Syria which has been in force for more than 40 years.

Under the watchful eye of plain clothes security police a small crowd of young and veteran civil rights activists gathered outside the military tribunal building in Aleppo.

The aim is to silence all the people, to silence all intellectuals
Eid supporter
One of Mr Eid's supporters explained why he thought this was such an exceptionally important trial.

"An intellectual, a very important intellectual is being put on trial for the first time," the supporter told the BBC.

"The aim is to silence all the people, to silence all intellectuals. It's like raising a stick against or in the face of all of society, an attempt to intimidate us all.

"People here they don't want a regime change, they're just asking for democracy, they are asking for their rights."

Political trial

After Mr Eid's case was dismissed, he emerged from the court building, followed by a number of lawyers who had volunteered to defend him.

They were all smiling and the mood changed from gloom to happiness. His friends hugged and kissed Mr Eid on the cheek.

I asked him what happened inside the court.

They wanted to send me a message that they're keeping an eye on what I write so I'd better watch it
Abdul Razzaq Eid
"The lawyers questioned the competence of the court to consider a case like this one which is the political trial of an intellectual," Mr Eid said.

"But the judge overruled them, basing his ruling on the emergency law.

"He asked me what I meant by a 'corrupt clique'. So I told him I meant the financial clique. I'd said 5% of the people controlled 95% of the national wealth. There was the suspicion that I was referring to government officials which of course I wasn't.

"I told him the word clique in Arabic means a rascal and asked him whether it was offensive to him to describe the corrupt as rascals. He said, no it was not, and declared me innocent of the charge.

So is that the end of court process?

"Well I think they wanted to send me a message that they're keeping an eye on what I write so I'd better watch it," Mr Eid said.

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