Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Syria dissident jail terms 'cut'

Riad Seif (file photo)
One of those sentenced is Riad Seif, a former MP who is sick with cancer

Syria has reduced the sentences of 12 pro-democracy activists from six years to two-and-a-half years each in prison, a human rights group has said.

The Damascus criminal court judge gave no reason for the revised sentences, and said the dissidents could appeal.

The 11 men and one woman - all signatories to the Damascus Declaration calling for democratic change - have been jailed since December or January.

Amnesty International has called for the group's release.

Prominent dissident Riad Seif, a former MP who suffers from advanced prostate cancer, was among those jailed for having "damaged the state".

Others included the group's leader and only woman Fidaa Horani, and writers Ali Abdullah and Akram Bunni.

Following a meeting of the pro-democracy group known last December, its members were rounded up and charged with spreading false information, belonging to a secret organisation and promoting sectarian strife.

The case has drawn international condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments, including the US.

Ammar Qurabi, of the National Organisation for Human Rights, in Syria expressed "deep shock" at the verdicts and called for the immediate release of the defendants, saying they had exercised "their right of freedom of expression."

Amnesty International has also called for the activists' release, as well as an investigation into allegations of torture against some of them.

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