Syria's state security court opened trials for two Syrian opposition members charged with inciting armed sedition and damaging the image of the nation.
Aref Dalila and Habib Saleh were both arrested during September 2001 amid a crackdown on opposition members and are accused of undermining national unity and inciting religious dissension, said their lawyer, Hassan Abdul Azim.
If convicted they face a minimum of five years in prison, AFP reported.
Journalists were banned from attending their hearings for the first time since the trials of the opposition members began in October 2001.
The only one allowed to attend was a reporter from the official agency SANA news agency. According to Azim, journalists were banned because authorities accused them of spreading "false information" about the trial of communist opposition member Riad Turk on April 28.
Dalila, 59, was the spokesman for the Committee for the Revival of Civil Society, which promoted the idea of political and economic reform in Syria. He spoke out against corruption in the political system.
His trial was adjourned until June 3 to allow his defense lawyers to meet with him in the Adra prison 20 kilometers from Damascus, and prepare their defense, Azim said.
Saleh, 52, held a regular political debates in the port city of Tartous and had also criticized the government.
During the hearing, judge Fayez Nuri interrogated him on "things he had said and articles he had written," Azim added. The court also set Saleh's next trial session for June 3.
Two others detained in last year's crackdown, legislators Riyadh Seif and Mamoun Homsi, were convicted in March of violating the constitution and sentenced to five years in prison.
In addition, the secretary-general of the Syrian Communist Party, Riyadh al-Turk, is on trial for telling a Damascus symposium that the presidency of the late Hafez Assad was characterized by stagnation.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the prison sentence handed down against Seif. “Syria has effectively declared war on its peaceful political critics, said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
“These sentences are clearly designed to punish and intimidate all advocates of democratic political change in Syria.” (Albawaba.com)
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