(This report covers the period January-December 1997) Dozens of people were arrested on political grounds, and hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to serve prison sentences or were held without charge or trial. At least six political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to be held beyond the expiry of their sentences. The fate of scores of prisoners who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. Information came to light about the sentencing to death of one political prisoner in previous years. Dozens of people were arrested during the year on suspicion of involvement in political activities. They included Zubayda Muqabel, a press officer at the office of former Vice-President Rif‘at al-Assad, who was arrested in Damascus by al-Amn al-Khass (special security) in July and held in incommunicado detention. Her whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.       At least 20 Kurds were arrested in al-Haska and Aleppo districts between January and March in connection with organizing Kurdish cultural activities. At least 15 were arrested in March on the eve of the Kurdish Nawruz (New Year) celebrations. They were arrested by the Syrian security service and reportedly detained in Aleppo, Far‘ Falastin and ‘Adra prisons. Among them were Khaled Daoud Sheikhu, ‘Umar Ayoub Hamu and Mahdi al-‘Ali, who were reportedly arrested for circulating cassettes of a Kurdish nationalist song. Most were still in detention at the end of the year. They were possible prisoners of conscience. Most of the Kurds who were arrested in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997) were reportedly released. Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, remained held without charge or trial, or serving prison sentences imposed mostly after unfair trials. At least 130 prisoners of conscience remained held in connection with Hizb al-‘Amal al-Shuyu‘i, Party for Communist Action (pca). They included Doha ‘Ashur al-‘Askari, a student who was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to six years' imprisonment by the Supreme State Security Court (sssc). ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Khayyir, who was arrested in Damascus in February 1992 and sentenced by the sssc to 22 years' imprisonment in August 1995, remained in detention. At least 10 prisoners of conscience sentenced by the sssc to terms of imprisonment of up to 15 years in connection with the pca, were released during the year. They included ‘Abbas ‘Abbas, who was released in March after completing his 15-year prison sentence (see Amnesty International Report 1997), and Munif Mulhim, who was released in April after "disappearing" for two months following the expiry of his 15-year prison term. About a dozen prisoners of conscience continued to serve prison sentences for alleged activities in connection with al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Maktab al-Siyassi, Communist Party–Political Bureau (cppb). Riad al-Turk, a leading member of the cppb, who was arrested in 1980 continued to be detained incommunicado at the Far‘ al-Tahqiq al ‘Askari (Military Interrogation Branch) in Damascus, without charge or trial. He was reportedly in poor health (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Of the 29 prisoners of conscience who were transferred to Tadmur military prison in 1996, apparently to punish them for refusing to sign an undertaking dissociating themselves from all past political activities (see Amnesty International Report 1997), five were released. Those released included Yasin al-Hajj Salih, who spent one year in Tadmur prison beyond the expiry of his 15-year sentence in connection with the cppb. The other 24 remained in detention. Four prisoners of conscience held in connection with the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (cdf) were released during the year, after the expiry of their sentences. These were Jadi‘ Nawfal, Ya‘qub Musa, Hasan ‘Ali and Husam Salama. Six other prisoners of conscience – Aktham Nu‘aysa, Thabit Murad, Muhammad ‘Ali Habib, Nizar Nayyuf, ‘Afif Muzhir and Bassam al-Sheikh – continued to serve prison sentences ranging from eight to 10 years. Aktham Nu‘aysa, a lawyer, was reported during the year to be in poor health and in need of specialist medical care (see previous Amnesty International Reports). There were new political trials before the sssc, whose procedures fell seriously short of international fair trial standards (see previous Amnesty International Reports). At least 25 suspected members of the Kurdish Workers' Party (pkk) were brought to trial before the sssc accused of "secession", and "terrorist acts". Most were sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Hundreds of people held in connection with the unauthorized al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, the Muslim Brotherhood, remained in detention. Most had been held incommunicado since the late 1970s and early 1980s without charge and trial or after summary and secret trials (see previous Amnesty International Reports). They included Hassan Farahat, a student who was arrested in Damascus in September 1982, and Taisir Lutfi and Salah Halawi, both brigadiers in the Syrian army who were arrested in 1982 and reportedly tried by a military tribunal. News emerged during the year that more than 20 prisoners of conscience – medical personnel and engineers – detained since 1980 had been released in previous years. They included Talal Sufi, Sami Walid, Hassan Sa‘id and Taisir Samsam. Dozens of doctors and engineers remained held who had been arrested following a one-day general strike in March 1980 led by members of the Medical, Bar and Engineers' Associations (see previous Amnesty International Reports). They included Ahmad Faris, an engineer who was arrested in November 1980 in Lataqiyya. It was not known whether any of them had been tried. Scores of Palestinians arrested in Lebanon or Syria on political grounds in previous years continued to be held incommunicado (see previous Amnesty International Reports). In most cases, their whereabouts were unknown. They included Salama George Kila, arrested in 1992 and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for "anti-revolutionary activities" against the Syrian Government; and Muhammad ‘Abdallah Abu Nar who was arrested in June 1985 and was reportedly tried by a military court in Tadmur prison in July 1988. No information was available about the trial of Muhammad ‘Abdallah Abu Nar or his sentence. About 200 Lebanese nationals continued to be held in Syrian prisons. Scores had been arrested in Lebanon during the Lebanese war from 1975 to 1990 and transferred to Syria. Others were arrested and taken to Syria after 1990. For example Bashir al-Khatib, a chef, was arrested in July 1996 by Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon and transferred to Syria where he remained held, reportedly without charge or trial, in al-Mezze prison. (See Lebanon entry.) At least six political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, remained in custody despite having completed their prison sentences. They included Mustafa Fallah, a former army officer in his sixties who was arrested in 1970 and sentenced in a mass trial by the sssc in 1971 to a 15-year sentence. By the end of the year, he had been held for 12 years beyond the expiry of his prison term, and was reportedly in poor health. Three prisoners of conscience – Bassam Budur, Taisir Hassoun, and 'Adib al-Jani – remained held in Tadmur military prison, three years beyond the expiry of their eight-year sentences imposed by the sssc in connection with the pca. Fateh Jamus, a prisoner of conscience arrested in 1982 and sentenced in 1994 to 15 years' imprisonment in connection with the pca, was reportedly transferred during the year to the Military Interrogation Branch, and was still in detention at the end of the year. The health of a number of prisoners of conscience, mainly held in Tadmur prison, gave cause for concern. At least seven of them were reportedly suffering from serious health problems, including cancer and diabetes. The health of these prisoners had apparently deteriorated owing to the harsh conditions in Tadmur, where torture and ill-treatment were routine. There were reports that these prisoners were not receiving adequate medical care. Information came to light during the year about the death in custody of at least four political prisoners held in connection with the one-day general strike in March 1980 (see above). They included ‘Adnan al-‘Adawi, Zahi ‘Abbadi, ‘Abd al-Majid ‘Abd al-Qadir Bitar and Muhammad Shakir Bismar. Scores of other political prisoners arrested in previous years remained unaccounted for and it was feared that they had "disappeared". During the year the authorities stated that two "disappeared" prisoners – ‘Adnan Murad, a Syrian Kurd held apparently in connection with the al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood), and Muhammad ‘Adnan Qassar – were tried and sentenced in 1981 and 1993 respectively. According to this information, ‘Adnan Murad was sentenced to death in November 1981 in connection with "a terrorist armed group which carried out assassinations and explosions inside Syria", and Muhammad ‘Adnan Qassar was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 1993 for "carrying out terrorist acts and attempting to bomb shops using an explosive device". No details were given of their trials or whether the death sentence was carried out. In March an Amnesty International delegation visited Syria to discuss its concerns with the government, and asked for information about approximately 500 cases. These included prisoners of conscience, cases of torture, deaths in custody, and "disappearances". No substantive progress appeared to have been made to address the concerns raised by the organization on this and previous occasions. During the year the government responded to some of Amnesty International's communications, and provided information on some "disappearance" and refugee cases. In April Amnesty International submitted information about its concerns in Syria for UN review, under a procedure established by Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728f/1503 for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations.  

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