DAMASCUS (AFP) – The trial of dissident Syrian author Ali al-Abdullah, charged with “disseminating false information,” began on Monday before a military tribunal, human rights groups said.
Abdullah pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying his statements did not “constitute a crime for which he should be tried because he has a natural right to his opinion,” the rights groups said in a statement.
The tribunal set the next hearing in the trial for February 23, the groups said.
The 61-year-old author, who served a sentence of two-and-a-half years from December 2007 to June 2010 for calling for democracy, had been set to be released in June 2010.
But he remained in custody to face a new trial over comments he made while in prison on Syrian-Lebanese relations, and alleged electoral fraud in Iran’s 2009 election, the groups said.
Abdullah is one of 12 signatories of the 2005 “Damascus Declaration,” which called for Syria to move towards democracy.
All 12 were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail by the Damascus Criminal Court for “undermining the image of the state” and “spreading false news.”
The rights groups expressed their “extreme concern at the severity with which the Syrian authorities treat political activists” and demanded “the dropping of all charges against Mr Abdullah and his immediate release.”
The groups that issued the statement were the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in Syria.