Writer and journalist Michel Kilo, who was released from Adra prison in Damascus at midnight on May 14 on completing a three-year sentence, was immediately taken to the Damascus headquarters of the intelligence services and has been held there ever since, undergoing interrogation, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.
His family has told Paris-based RSF its concern is compounded by the fact that he has kidney stones in the urethra, the presence of which was confirmed by an ultrasound scan carried out in the Adra prison infirmary on May 14.
“Kilo must be released and allowed to go home,” RSF said. “He has served his three-year prison sentence. His interrogation by the state security police violates his rights. Furthermore, his state of health is very worrying and requires urgent medical treatment.”
Now aged 68, Kilo was arrested on May 14, 2006 after signing the “Beirut-Damascus/Damascus-Beirut Declaration”, an appeal for a radical overhaul of relations between Syria and Lebanon, and was given the three-year sentence on a charge of “undermining national sentiment.” He was made to serve the entire sentence although a judge ruled in favour of early release. He was awarded the British Parliamentary Press Gallery prize in October 2008.
RSF reiterated its call for the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in force for the past 46 years in Syria, suppressing civil rights and freedoms. All dissent was silenced during Hafez Al-Assad’s 30-year dictatorship. After the dictator was succeeded by his son, Bashar Al-Assad, in 2000, people were given a limited opportunity to express their views for a brief period known as the “Damascus Spring”.
But a wave of arrests followed a December 2007 meeting by pro-democracy activists allied in what was known as the Damascus Declaration National Council. In all, 12 leading figures were arrested by the intelligence services, including three journalists—Fayez Sara, Ali Abdallah and Akram Bounni.
A total of five journalists are currently in prison in Syria, which was ranked 159th out of 173 countries in the 2008 RSF press freedom index. President Bashar Al-Assad is on the RSF list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”