Syrian officials arrested opposition activist Kamal al-Labwani on November 8th after his return from the US.
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Rice: Syria Lacks Freedoms
Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:23 PM ET
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syria's arrest of opposition activist Kamal al-Labwani shows it is not a country where freedom has taken hold, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday.
Rice, who has taken aim at Syria over its human rights record during a Middle East tour, made the comment to reporters on a flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel. Labwani was arrested in Syria on November 8 on returning from the United States.
In Damascus, human rights activist Ammar Qurabi said a Syrian interrogation judge ordered Labwani's arrest and an interrogation report found he had shown disrespect for the state, a crime with a maximum penalty of three years in jail.
Rice strongly condemned the detention of Labwani, who met U.S. officials while in the United States.
"It tells us that Syria is not a place where freedoms have yet taken hold. It tells us that the Syrian government is out of step with the region," she said.
"This man who came to Europe and the United States to talk about a better future for his people is being punished and accused by the Syrian government."
Rice also raised Labwani's case in a speech on Saturday in Bahrain. "I hope that the Syrians were listening," she said.
In Damascus, rights activist Qurabi described as a "positive step" that Labwani was not facing charges of conspiring with a foreign country, which is penalized with life imprisonment.
Qurabi said Labwani told interrogators the purpose of his meeting with U.S. and other foreign officials was "preventing the imposition of sanctions on the Syrian people and to emphasize the importance of democracy in Syria".
Syria could face sanctions if it is judged not to have cooperated fully with a UN investigation into the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Syria has dismissed a UN report implicating its officials in the bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri, saying it was politically motivated.