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"Harming the Country’s Reputation"

Attorney Anwar al-Banni Sentenced in Damascus

Wednesday 6 June 2007, by Nahla Chahal

A few weeks ago, a five-year sentence was passed down in Syria to attorney Anwar al-Banni under the declared pretext of “harming the country’s reputation.” Under the same pretext, in a television interview, the attorney of Mr. al-Banni who is also the defense attorney for Mr. Michel Kilo, said the latter is facing the threat of execution. Hence, the situation has graduated to the status of caricature.

It may be very difficult to deal with such matters with a straight face because such stances could easily be ridiculed. However, the personal fate of each of these prisoners and their family’s suffering is what stops us from poking fun. The problem is that there are dozens of Syrians who have spent a horrendous number of years in prison on similar charges. By the time they were finally set free, their lives and the lives of their families had already been completely destroyed, which is nothing less than an execution.

Furthermore, arrests based on charges such as these and authenticating these accusations in a court of law in order to cancel out the arbitrariness of the arrest is also extremely dangerous. The alleged and exercised legal cover used here for such issues distorts one of the most important pillars for social struggle, which is having institutions that in some way play a role of mediation so as to avoid falling into direct and immediate violence.

This can be a definition of the role of the law and independent judiciary. Even if they rule according to the logic of the standing authority, its function is not primarily to justify this authority’s actions, especially by a superficial way. It is also to create a “cooling down” space that would oblige the authority to put breaks on its tendency to crack down, which comes from any use of force. It also declares the red lines for confronting its opponents, which is also a supposed function. It is wise that these lines have varying degrees. So, for courts to receive files marked “harming the country’s reputation” and then to assumedly play their role through examining these files before issuing sentences with no legal backbone in any general legal logic is a double violation that only reinforces the arbitrary nature of such arrests.

From another position, the fact that the people are helpless in doing anything to confront such measures is also another source of danger in society just like it is for any authority to resort to this style of “like it or lump it.”

Protests over the arbitrary arrest of attorney al-Banni and Michel Kilo and his companions have not subsided, just like the protests over the continued arrest of Dr. Aref Dalila, which were carried out because of a deep resentment against these truly shameful arrests. The protests came from inside Syria, which means a heroic risk for its organizers. They also came from abroad, whereby international human rights organizations and cultural forums and resistance groups in the Arab world and abroad all declared their protest over the arrest of these men and the resort to the unlimited emergency laws. The more these positions strengthened in expression, the more obstinate the ruling authority took on an almost “gangster” approach, whereby it feared that its status and prestige would be undermined or weakened.

Finally, seemingly yet another justification surfaces, which tries to link between this repeated wave of oppression and the Syrian leadership turning its attention to the internal situation and considering it a priority. This aspect of the situation represents the most dangerous aspect of them all, because it supposes that its message to the domestic front can be achieved through rounding up all those who sing to a different tune, and silencing them. The truth is that the logic governing this behavior allows for the country to be weakened in the face of all forms of foreign intervention, which will inevitably present itself as the only possible and remaining salvation. If the Syrian leadership is preparing for a lengthy battle with an American aggression, which may at any time turn into a military aggression in many forms and scenarios, its first order of business must be to establish an internal front that can accommodate all those who want to wage this battle alongside it, but which do not “blindly endorse” the government either in the methods of confrontation or in any other ways.

This is not a moral call for openness. It is a political call for a declaration of emergency in the country, but not like the one that has been declared—that is, as an endorsement of the oppressive regime—but as a plea for action that calls on society to take its place in this confrontation and show willingness to adapt to the requirements of such as process, first and foremost to relinquish some authorities.

The first sign of this relinquishment would be to cancel the emergency law in effect since 1963. Second would be to call on the national oppositionists to take their places in decision making positions. That’s right—Michel Kilo’s place is in an active ministerial position in an effective ministry with authorities. The same goes for Aref Dalila.

If there is an all-out confrontation coming, or even the intention of keeping the current level of confrontation going, these are some successful methods of waging it and some signs that must be sent as a promise of more to come. This is especially true since the overall structure of the authority is full of elements that do not let anyone believe it or trust in its promises or rhetoric. It needs mediators and practical steps of this sort…before the people’s legitimate resentment over their hardship and misery takes over their sound sense of patriotism.

This article was originally published in Arabic in al-Hayat, and translated into English by the Alternative Information Center (AIC) by request of the author.

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