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Leading Syria activist gets 5 years in jail

world Updated: Apr 25, 2007 05:32 IST

AP
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One of Syria's most vocal human rights activists has been sentenced to five years in prison, in a clear warning that the government will not tolerate dissent.

Anwar al-Bunni defiantly told the court on Tuesday he would not be silenced.

The verdict showed President Bashar Assad's disregard for US calls for the release of al-Bunni and other dissidents held for the past year following the biggest crackdown on critics of his regime in years.

The court decision drew a swift response from the European Union and a key rights group.

"This verdict is a political verdict," al-Bunni, a lawyer, told the court after a judge read out the verdict, according to his brother, Akram al-Bunni. "This is a response to what I've done regarding monitoring violations of human rights," added al-Bunni.

Al-Bunni was a founding member of the Syrian Human Rights Association. In April 2006, he reported on a suspected Islamic fundamentalist who died in prison, allegedly from torture, and spoke out in support of Kurdish dissidents amid a government crackdown against them.

He was also among 500 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals who signed the so-called "Damascus Declaration" that called on the Syrian government to improve ties with neighbouring Lebanon, a sensitive issue in Syria. In May last year, a week after signing the declaration, he and at least eight other activists were arrested.