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'Syria frees key opposition figure'

world Updated: Aug 07, 2008 21:05 IST
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Syrian opposition figure Aref Dalila has been released from jail after a seven-year detention under a presidential amnesty, the head of a human rights organisation said on Thursday.

Dalila, a 68-year-old economist, was arrested in September 2001 along with nine other opposition activists and jailed in July 2002 for trying to "modify the constitution and denigrate the state."

"Aref Dalila was freed in line with a presidential pardon after having spent seven years in jail," National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria chief Ammar Qorabi told AFP.

"This is a good step," he added, voicing hope that other detained opposition figures would be released.

The Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights also welcomed Dalila's release. "It is good news. We are extremely satisfied," said the head of the league, Abdel Karim Rihawi.

In July, Qorabi called on President Bashar al-Assad to grant an amnesty to Dalila "because of a deterioration in his state of health, and to turn a new page with the Syrian opposition."

"Continuing to detain Dalila, who is sick and lacking medical care, is a flagrant violation of international laws and agreements on human rights," Qorabi said in a statement.

It said he was the only remaining prisoner from the so-called Damascus Spring, the brief period of relative freedom of expression that followed Assad's rise to the presidency following the death of his father Hafez in 2000.

The new president later accused the 10 jailed activists of having misunderstood the sort of democracy he had promised during his investiture.

Dalila, who was born in the Mediterranean port city of Latakia, is a former head of the economics faculty at Damascus University.