Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Damascus bans intellectuals and dissidents from leaving Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prominent Syrian opposition figure Michel Kilo has revealed that he intends to visit the Syrian Department of Immigration and Passports today, after he was prevented from travelling to Beirut on Sunday for a television appearance to discuss the situation in the country. Kilo told Asharq Al-Awsat that he intends to find out whether this travel ban is temporary or long-term, adding that if it is not temporary then he intends to file a lawsuit against the Syrian authorities.

Kilo was one of 5 prominent Syrian figures, including Fayez Sara, Louay Hussein, Mohammed Malas, and Thabet Salem, who were invited to Beirut to appear on Alhurra TV to discuss the situation in Syria. The invitation reportedly did not reach Malas, who is a prominent Syrian filmmaker, although senior Syrian journalist and political analyst Thabet Salem was able to attend. However Kilo, Sarah, and Hussein were all prevented from crossing the Syrian – Lebanese border by Syrian immigration authorities “out of concern for their safety in Lebanon.”

Syrian dissident writer and pro-democracy campaigner Michel Kilo – who was released from prison in Syria in 2009 after serving a 3-year sentence for “weakening national sentiment and encouraging sectarian strife” – told Asharq Al-Awsat that the decision preventing him and his colleagues from travelling to Beirut “comes within the context of preventing a large number of Syrian intellectuals from leaving Syrian territory”, adding that “this decision therefore came as no surprise.”

Louay Hussein also denounced this decision, claiming that it was an attempt to keep the opposition from speaking on television, whilst Sara reportedly stated that “this decision negates all the talk about transparency and reforms…it is unjustified and illegal.”

Kilo also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the five Syrian figures were informed that they were not allowed to travel for a period of two days, due to Syrian authorities’ “concern for their security and safety.” Kilo claimed that this situation arose out of “an interview that was scheduled to be held with Alhurra TV”, adding that “there is a chance that the objective of this decision was to prevent us from taking part in the [televised] conference.”

He also revealed that he intends to visit the Syrian Department of Immigration and Passports today to find out how long this travel ban will be imposed, as he is scheduled to travel to Beirut in the near future for health reasons.

Damascus preventing a number of prominent Syrian opposition figures and intellectuals from leaving the country is nothing new. Syrian political dissident Riad Seif was banned from travelling to Germany last month to receive medical treatment for prostate cancer after Syrian secret police allegedly found a suspicious substance in his luggage, although he was later released without charge after his flight had departed.

Kilo claimed that “they put a bag of salt in his [Seif’s] luggage and forced him to wait for the chemical analysis in the airport’s laboratory. After it was clear that the bag contained salt, they asked him to wait until a sample could be sent to a better equipped laboratory so they could be completely certain”. He added that “they are resorting to strange and bizarre arts [to prevent people from travelling].”

Damascus only lifted the travel ban imposed upon political dissident Riad Seif a few days before this incident. The 60-year-old Seif, a fierce critic of Syria’s autocratic political system, had previously been arrested for two weeks in May for participating in a pro-democracy demonstration in Damascus. Prior to this, he served eight years in prison – being released in 2010 – as a political prisoner.

Michel Kilo, who told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had spent more than half his life in prison, stressed that “the law and the constitution allow me to travel whenever I like. I will try to travel again, and I will not hesitate to file a lawsuit if I find out that this travel ban is not temporary.” He described such actions on the part of the Syrian authorities as being “illegal and illogical”, adding that “it is difficult to find any justification for this, or to even understand it.”