Across the Bay

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kamal Labwani Sentenced to 12 Years

A recent editorial in The Washington Post read:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was particularly unstinting in her goodwill, declaring that she had come to see Mr. Assad "in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace." In a statement, her delegation reported that it had talked to Mr. Assad about stopping the flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq and about obtaining the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. It also said it had "conveyed our strong interest in the cases of [Syrian] democracy activists," such as imprisoned human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni.

Three weeks have passed, so it's fair to ask: Has there been any positive change in Syrian behavior -- any return gesture of goodwill, however slight?

Mr. al-Bunni might offer the best answer -- if he could. On Tuesday, one of Mr. Assad's judges sentenced him to five years in prison. His "crimes" were to speak out about the torture and persecution of regime opponents, to found the Syrian Human Rights Association and to sign the "Damascus Declaration," a pro-democracy manifesto.

Similarly, in his recent piece, Lee Smith wrote the following:

Another source explains that Syrian activists believe Pelosi's trip gave the Asad regime much needed breathing room. "Whether there is a real connection or not, political dissidents note that Anwar al-Bunni was sentenced to five years in prison in the wake of Pelosi's visit."

Another opposition figure, Muhammad Ma'moun Homsi, a former Syrian MP who was imprisoned for five years beginning in 2001, and who has now fled Syria, revealed that he had sent a letter to Pelosi asking her not to come to Damascus. In an interview on an Arabic-language website, Homsi added that the idea of engaging such regimes is "a very dangerous proposition cause next will be a call to engage terrorist organizations."

Since that article came out, the regime seized Homsi's assets, stripping his family of its home ownership, in order to pressure him and his family. That happened the same day Rice met with Syria's FM at the Iraq conference in Egypt.

The latest news came today, when dissident Kamal Labwani, who was arrested in 2005 for meeting with State Department and White House officials to call for democratic and human rights reforms in Syria, was sentenced to life in prison, commuted to 12 years with labor. (And the NYT never questioned the Syrians' bull when they said they sentenced a suspected al-Qaeda member for 3 years!)

This is what you get when you engage Syria: intransigence in foreign policy (a euphemism for the regime's policy of sponsoring terror and destabilizing its neighbors), and wanton brutality domestically, against brave civic and human rights activists.

I'll end with the words of the Post's editorial: "The danger of offering 'friendship' and 'hope' to a ruler such as Mr. Assad is that it will be interpreted as acquiescence by the United States to the policies of dictatorship."