Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Regime Binge

After the arrest of Michel Kilo, the Syrian regime today arrested human rights activist, Anwar al-Bunni.

The regime preceded this move by stripping Bunni of his license to practice law for up to four years. It had also shut down the human rights center that he heads (which was mostly funded by the EU).

Bunni and his brothers have signed the joint statement by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals who called on the Syrian regime to, among other things, correct its relations with Lebanon, demarcate the borders, exchange embassies, recognize Lebanon's sovereignty and independce, cease interference in its affairs, and release all Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and reveal the fate of the missing.

Bunni's brother Akram said that the arrest was more like a kidnapping, as the security agents did not summon him, rather staked him outside his house and jumped him as he was getting into his car. They yanked him away screaming.

Bunni's arrest is the latest (so far) in a true "binging" campaign by the regime, which has arrested about 10 of the signatories to the joint statement.

As for Kilo, he is now facing ridiculous charges ("weakening nationalist sentiment" and "provoking sectarian strife" as well as "diminishing the stature of the state" and "propagating false news" and "defamation") that could carry a life sentence. At the very least, he is facing a year according to a law that prohibits participation in any political or social grouping of an international character without permission, which carries a sentence of 3 months to 3 years.

This campaign comes on the eve of Brammertz's report, which is due in June, and as the UNSC passed a resolution calling on Syria to demarcate its borders with Lebanon, exchange embassies, stop arm shipments to militias, and stop interfering in Lebanese affairs. The Syrian foreign ministry called the resolution "a provocation."

Update: The story has just been reported by Reuters.

Addendum: This article by Bahia Mardini in Elaph contains an interesting statement: "discussing Syrian-Lebanese relations is now considered a red line [in Syria]." She added that certain Syrian officials described the joint declaration signed by Kilo and Bunni, the "March 14 declaration," in reference to the anti-Asad coalition in Lebanon.