NGO: 32 Protesters Held for Hurting 'Syria's Image'

Syria on Thursday charged 32 demonstrators with attacking the reputation of the state a day after they joined a rally calling for the release of political prisoners, a rights group said.

The 32 protesters, including rights activist Suhair Atassi, were detained on Wednesday at a Damascus rally organized by the relatives of political prisoners to petition for their release.

"The Syrian authorities on Thursday charged 32 activists who took part in protest outside the interior ministry with attacking the reputation of the state, provoking racism and sectarianism and damaging relations between Syrians," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rights group listed the names of 25 detained demonstrators, including Atassi and four relatives of opposition figure Kamal Labwani, who is serving a 12-year jail sentence.

It said security services broke up the sit-in "by force."

Syrian rights groups have repeatedly urged the authorities to free prisoners of conscience and to stop arbitrary detention of political opponents and civil society activists.

They have also called for a law on political parties "to enable citizens to exercise their right to participate in managing the affairs of the country."

On Thursday five protesters detained at Wednesday's rally were freed, a rights group said amid international calls for more to be released.

Human Rights Watch called for the release of all demonstrators, estimating that at least 34 people were arrested based on a list compiled by participants.

"Instead of beating families of Syria’s political prisoners, President (Basgar) al-Assad should be reuniting them with their loved ones," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.

HRW quoted one released activist as saying security services had asked those arrested for their Facebook passwords.

Whitson said if Assad "is serious about reform, he should hold his security services to account.

"Syrians deserve no less than the Egyptians and Tunisians who finally succeeded in forcing their political leadership to disband the feared state security services."

France on Thursday condemned violence against protesters in Damascus, and the United States called on Syria to exercise restraint.

Source: Agence France Presse

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