Writer Accused of 'Civil Warfare'

Tuesday, 05 August 2008 20:00 Editorial Dept - Free Press

Syria - Reporters Without Borders called on the Syrian government today to release jailed online journalist Habib Saleh, who was arrested in a market in the northwestern town of Tartous on 6 May. He appeared in court in Damascus on 4 August accused of writing articles that "weakened national feeling" and "incited civil and religious warfare," under articles 285 and 289 of the criminal law.

"We did not know where Saleh was being held after his arrest, so we are relieved to learn he is still alive," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "But we strongly condemn his arrest and detention. All he has done is exercise his right to speak up freely, but unfortunately people in Syria are frequently thrown in prison for posting material online."

It also called for the release of four other jailed cyber-dissidents - Firas Saad, Tariq Biassi, Kareem Arabji and Hammam Haddad.

Saleh admitted in court he had written the articles but denied all the charges against him. He is also accused of "belonging to a secret organisation" and libelling the country's president.


Saleh, 61, is a regular contrbutor to the website Elaph.com (www.elaph.com), which is censored in Syria because of its news coverage, and this was his third arrest in seven years. He was given a three-year prison sentence in 2002 during the crackdown that followed the "Damascus Spring" but was freed in September 2004. He was again sentenced to three years on 15 August 2006 under article 286 for "putting out false news" in online articles and was released on 12 September last year.

Syria is the most repressive country in the Middle East towards online journalists. Reporters Without Borders notes that the national constitution guarantees "the right of free expression in speech, writing or any other medium."

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