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Syrian writer faces military trial on insult charges as crackdown on dissent continues

[JURIST] A Syrian writer and his son have been charged with insulting government employees and will be tried before a military tribunal, the Syrian National Organization for Human Rights said Tuesday, as a crackdown on dissent in Syria continues. Journalist Ali Al-Abdallah and his son Mohamed are members of the state-recognized Atassi Forum for National Dialogue, a political group critical of the current Baath administration of President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile], and were arrested [HREA report] on May 15, 2005, around the same time that a prominent human rights lawyer was arrested [JURIST report]. Earlier this month another writer, Mohammad Ghanem, was sentenced to six months [JURIST report] for "insulting the Syrian president, discrediting the Syrian government and fomenting sectarian unrest."

On Monday, Syrian activists said that the government fired 17 workers for signing the Damascus-Beirut declaration of May 12 [text, in Arabic], signed by 500 Syrian dissidents, which calls for normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon, a properly demarcated border, the release of political prisoners and the exchanging of ambassadors. The government in May arrested 10 signatories to the declaration [JURIST report], as well as the eight remaining members of the Atassi Forum [BBC report]. The declaration echoes appeals made in newly-adopted [BBC report] UN Security Council Resolution 1680 [summary and text] urging Syria to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Ties between Lebanon and Syria [JURIST news archives] have become increasingly strained throughout the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive], which has implicated Syrian security forces in Hariri's death.

In a related development, the Syrian government is working on a law that could ease the way for other political parties to challenge political dominance of the Baath party, which has been in power for 43 years. A Syrian spokesperson said the draft law will soon be published on the Internet, but cautioned that allowing more political parties to participate will not necessarily mean that the Baath party will lose its leading role in the government. Aljazeera has more.

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