[JURIST] A criminal court sitting in Damascus Wednesday sentenced twelve dissidents accused of inciting sectarian strife to two and a half years in prison, according to the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria [advocacy website]. The convicted were all leaders of the pro-democracy Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (DDDNC) [press release] group. They were found guilty on charges [Amnesty International report] of weakening national sentiment, broadcasting false or exaggerated news that could affect the morale of the country, joining an organization formed with the purpose of changing the financial or social status of the state, and inciting sectarian strife. The activists were arrested in December 2007 and January 2008 after taking part in a meeting of the DDDNC. The original sentence was 6 years but it was reduced by the judge without any explanation. The convicted can appeal for up to 30 days. Several other DDDNC meeting participants were arrested but later released without charge. AP has more.
In April 2007, Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni was sentenced to five years in prison [JURIST report] and required to pay a fine after being convicted of spreading false information harmful to the state. In May 2006, Kamal Labwani, a Syrian political dissident who founded another pro-democracy group, was sentenced [JURIST report] to 12 years in prison for encouraging attacks against Syria after contacting a foreign country. Labwani met with White House officials during a visit to the US in 2005, and was arrested [JURIST report] when he returned to Syria.