March 16, 2011 

His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad
President of the Republic
Presidential Palace
Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street       
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax:  + 963 11 332 3410
His Excellency General Saed Samour
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: + 963 11 222 3428

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our extreme alarm regarding the sentence handed down to journalist ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah.

According to our information, Abdullah was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a military court in Damascus on March 13, 2011. The court initially handed him a three-year sentence, but later reduced the term to 18 months. Mr. Abdullah has been kept in prison since a two-and-a-half-year sentence expired on June 16, 2010. His continued detention stems from an article he published in late 2009 in which he criticized Syrian-Iranian relations. He appeared before a Military Court on February 7, 2011, on charges of “disseminating false information” and “harming Syria’s relations with a foreign country.” During the court session, Abdullah told the court that his statements did not “constitute a crime for which he should be tried because he has a natural right to his opinion.”

‘Ali al-Abdullah was initially arrested on December 16, 2007, and sentenced on October 29, 2008, to two and a half years in prison for “disseminating false information with the aim of harming the state,” “membership of a secret organization designed to destabilize the state,” and “inciting ethnic and racial tension” for his dissident writings and peaceful opposition activities. Abdullah was arrested with his son Muhammad ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah following their participation in a peaceful demonstration outside the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) on March 22, 2007.

Another of ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah’s sons, Omar, has been detained since March 18, 2006, for his involvement in a pro-democracy youth movement. Their arrests are part of an ongoing crackdown on government opponents who are being targeted for their peaceful opposition activities. ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah was also previously arrested in May 2005 and detained for over five months for opposition activities.
PEN American Center believes that the 18-month sentence handed down to ‘Ali al-‘Abdullah directly contravenes his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as assurances of his well-being while in detention.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.


Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee     
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Imad Moustapha
Embassy of Syria
2215 Wyoming Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 265-4585

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