DAMASCUS, (Reuters) – A Syrian military court has sentenced leading dissident Kamal al-Labwani to three years in jail on charges of weakening national morale on top of a 12-year sentence he is serving, human rights activists said on Thursday.
Labwani underwent trial while in prison after inmates allegedly heard him insult President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled Syria since succeeding his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000. “This is a political sentence without legal basis. It is a message to the Syrian opposition that political reform will remain delayed and that the judicial system and the regime behind it will keep punishing you,” Ammar al-Qurabi, head of the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights, told Reuters.
A statement by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the verdict was a “mockery of justice”. “The Syrian authorities have reached the stage where they prosecute prisoners for their conversations. We call for real judicial reform and the immediate release of Dr. Labwani,” the statement said.
Labwani was arrested at Damascus airport in 2005 upon his return from a trip to Washington, where he met U.S. officials in the White House to raise the issue of human rights in his homeland.
The 50-year-old physician was sentenced to 12 years with hard labour for “inciting a foreign country to invade Syria”. The extra 3-year sentence was issued this week. U.S. President George W. Bush, the European Union and international human rights organisations have repeatedly called for Labwani’s release.
Syria has thousands of political prisoners, human rights activists say. Most have been jailed since Assad started a crackdown against dissidents in 2001, following a brief period of openness known as the Damascus Spring.
Labwani was one of the leaders of the Damascus Spring. He was also jailed from 2001 to 2004 for his role in the movement, which called for lifting curbs on public freedoms and democracy in Syria.
The Baath Party, which is controlled by Assad, has ruled Syria since taking power in a coup in 1963. The party banned all opposition and imposed emergency law still in force today.