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Middle east

Freed Syrian writer vows to continue working

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Lorena GALLIOT

Latest update : 2009-05-21

Shortly after his release from a Syrian prison over his 2006 call to mend relations between Beirut and Damascus, prominent Syrian writer Michel Kilo told FRANCE 24 he was determined to get back to the work he abandoned three years ago.

Syrian political writer and human rights activist Michel Kilo is known back home for his staunch advocacy of democratic reform, a commitment that cost him a three-year spell in jail. Having just been released, Kilo spoke of his incarceration and liberation in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“I was detained for three years, I did my time. From a legal point of view, I was going to be freed”, he said, despite the fact that Syrian authorities have often ignored legal deadlines in the past. In fact, Kilo’s prison sentence expired last Thursday, but he was transferred to a security compound and held for five more days for unknown reasons until he was finally released, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Kilo, 68, was sentenced in May 2007 to three years in jail for having signed the 2006 Beirut Damascus-Damascus Beirut declaration, calling on the Syrian regime to free political prisoners and complete a total withdrawal from Lebanon (occupied between 1989 and 2005). 273 prominent intellectuals also signed the document and were arrested, but many were freed after accepting to withdraw their signature.

Kilo refused, however, and defended his position during his 4th court hearing in Damascus on March 5, 2007, by arguing that the declaration served both Syrian and Lebanese interests. Syrian authorities used his declarations, as well as a shady “report” that accused the writer of encouraging fellow inmates to rebel against the state, to charge Kilo with “encouraging civil rebellion” and “undermining national morale”. Unlike other non-violent critics of the government, who are sometimes let free after completing only part of their sentence, Kilo served his full term.

Syrian authorities may want to keep close tabs on such a prominent dissident, but gradual changes in political mentalities make his detention harder to defend. For instance, the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon, one of the main demands of the Beirut-Damascus declaration, was finally approved in 2008. “One month ago, Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals gathered in Damascus and issued a declaration almost identical to ours in 2006. I think this caused some uneasiness regarding my incarceration,” Kilo told FRANCE 24.

The writer, who says he was “treated well” while in jail, does not intend to give up his activism. “I’ll continue doing what I did before, particularly in keeping up relations with my friends, intellectuals here and in the Arab world” he said, in a thinly veiled reference to his Lebanese friendships.

A statement from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights congratulated Michel Kilo for his release and called on “all prisoners of conscience in Syria to be set free”. Human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, another signatory of the declaration, is still in jail despite Western calls on Syria to release him.

Date created : 2009-05-20