September 11, 2008

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 Ghazi Kan’an
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of Interior Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 222 3428

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to welcome the release of writer Dr. Aref Dalila.

According to our information, Dr. Dalila, writer for the banned weekly Al-Doumari and former dean of economics at Damascus University, was freed on August 7, 2008, after seven years in prison. He was arrested on September 9, 2001 for a lecture in which he called for democracy and transparency and declared official corruption, and subsequently charged with trying to change the constitution by force, through the weakening of national sentiment, by distributing false news and causing racial and sectarian tensions. In early 2002, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor. His trial at the Supreme State Security Court did not comply with international standards of due process, and he was reportedly in poor health during his imprisonment, exacerbated by poor living standards in the prison and harsh treatment.

PEN American Center welcomes the release of Dr. Aref Dalila, but is still extremely concerned about the number of writers still detained in Syria. We therefore respectfully call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Syria in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Imad Moustapha, Ph.D.
Ambassador of Syria to the U.S.
2215 Wyoming Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20008
Tel: (202) 232-6313

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