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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK
Syrian jailed for internet usage
Computer user
Four more people are facing internet charges
Syria has jailed a man who downloaded material from a banned emigre website and e-mailed it to others.

Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri, 32, received a two-and-a-half year sentence for "publishing false news that saps the morale of the nation".

He had been arrested in February 2003, and his computer equipment seized.

Four other Syrians are facing similar charges in cases which their lawyer, Anwar al-Bunni, said were "aimed at keeping Syria backwards".

The verdict was a "political decision that quells the right of expression in Syria".

The human rights group Amnesty International has urged Syria to release all five detainees.

Brothers Muhammed and Haytham Qutaysh and Yahia al-Aws are accused of sending false information abroad to an electronic newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates.

They have been held for 18 months and their trial is due at the end of July.

Masoud Hamid has been in detention since July 2003, after he posted photographs of a Kurdish demonstration in Damascus on the Internet.

Release call

Since coming to power four years ago, President Bashar Assad has allowed mobile phones and the internet to gain a foothold in the country.

He had once headed the Syrian Computer Association and is known for his enthusiasm for new technology.

But the state-run media is still closely controlled, and any websites deemed offensive or anti-Syrian are banned by the government.

The Human Rights Association of Syria described the latest ruling as "a dangerous precedent against Internet users and another step back".

The group called for Mr Shaghouri's immediate release, saying that while awaiting trial he had not had access to his family or lawyers.

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