Syria has released three pro-democracy advocates arrested more than two years ago after signing the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, a manifesto calling for peaceful reform in the Ba’athist state.
Akram al-Bunni, Ahmed Tohmeh and Jabr al-Shoufi were charged with spreading false information and weakening national morale. Nine other prominent signatories, including former parliamentarian Riad Seif, were arrested after attending a gathering in December 2007. Some are expected to be released later this week.
Liberal democrats joined with leftists, Islamists and Kurds in signing the declaration in an attempt to give the lie to claims that Syria lacked “any coherent, organized opposition.”
Several internal and exiled groups signed the declaration which calls on democratic forces, including Ba’athist reformers or “people of the regime,” to undertake “a salvation task of change that takes the country from being a security state to a civil state.” Signatories reject “change coming from the outside” but promise “to do whatever is necessary to launch a process of democratic change.”
The diversity of the signatories is as significant as its content, with Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood joining the leftist-nationalist Democratic National Gathering, the Committees for Civil Society Revival, the Democratic Kurdish Alliance, the Democratic Kurdish Front, and the Future (Al-Mustaqbal) Party. Several prominent dissidents also signed, including imprisoned parliamentarian Riad Seif.
The meeting recognized those activists have detained since December 2007 and January 2008, after organizing a meeting in support of the declaration. Accepting the award on behalf of those incarcerated advocates like Riad Seif, exiled human rights activist Radwan Ziadeh lamented the fact that Syria’s potentially pivotal role in securing Middle East peace is prompting Western politicians to turn a blind eye to the oppressive nature of the regime.