Syrian courts yesterday convicted three Kurds to three years for being members of the leadership of a Kurdish political party. The convictions come just one week after four other Kurds were sentenced for membership in another Kurdish political party. There are fifteen Kurdish political parties in Syria, all of which are banned there.
The three men, Mustafa Juma Bakr, Muhammed Saed al-Omar, and Saadoun Mahmoud Sheikho, are members of the Kurdish Azadî Party. Juma Bakr, 62, is the deputy chairperson of the party and was detained on 10 January 2009. Al-Omar and Sheikho were arrested on 26 October 2008.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website, all three were charged and convicted for ‘undermining the security of the state’ and ‘weakening national sentiment,’ according to article 285 of the Syrian penal code. For this conviction they each received three years imprisonment. They were also given six months for ‘inciting religious and racial tensions’ (article 307) but the court suspended the sentence on that charge. The court also threw out the charge of sedition, which carries the death penalty.
Under Article 285 of the Penal Code, temporary imprisonment is to be imposed on anyone calling for ‘anything to weaken the national feeling (shu’ur), or [trying] to create sectarian or religious chauvinism in time of war or when war is expected.’
Articles 307 of the Penal Code deals with acts classified as ‘crimes which reduce national unity or sow discord among the elements of the population.’ These offences are covered by Article 6(b) of the State of Emergency Law, which categorises offences identified in Articles 260-339 of the Penal Code as ‘crimes against the security of the state and public order’ and are tried by the Supreme State Security Court. Article 307 states: ‘Any work, writing or speech intended to result, or resulting, in incitement of sectarian or racial chauvinism (na’arah) or encouraging disputes between the sects or races of the nation is punishable by imprisonment from six months to two years together with deprivation of civil rights.’
There is a visible upswing in the number of arrests and convictions in Syria of Kurdish activists and those who join a Kurdish political party or participate in any human rights movement. There are now more than 150 Kurds held as political prisoners in Syria and not a day goes by without a Kurd—activist, student, or otherwise—being questioned by state security.
Fouad Aliko, a prominent member of the Yekîtî party, was sentenced to a year in jail in April for being part of an association ‘with an international facet.’
Hassan Saleh, a member in the same party, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for ‘instigating riots and sectarian tensions.’
In May Mesh’al al-Tammo, spokesperson for the Kurdish Future Movement, was convicted under article 285 and sentenced to 3½ years imprisonment.
And last week the State Security Court passed down a verdict against four Kurds and they were given 6-year sentences for their participation in the Kurdish Democratic Union Party. The four were charged with membership in banned party and for plotting to join a part of Syrian territory with a foreign country. The four are: Nasser Muhammed, Fawaz Ali, Saud Sheikhmous, and Abdul Rahman Muhammed.
It is clear that more and more, Syrian authorities are targeting prominent members and leaders of Kurdish political parties. And those who are convicted are getting longer prison terms.
Back in 2005 at the Ba’ath Party congress, Syrian officials made vague promises to look at measures to help Kurds, who make up 9-10% of the population. They have also said they would engage in dialogue to ‘solve the Kurdish cause democratically.’ To date, nothing has been done. The opposite is probably true: the situation is far worse, with more repression and harassment.
With Ankara opening the door to Kurdish rights to the north and the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq to the east, Damascus has reason to be concerned. Kurds in Syria, they know, will not sit idly by and watch as their brethren reap the benefits of political changes and democratisation.
Abdul Hakim Bashar, secretary of the Central Committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria, offers two reasons behind this increase in repression of the Kurds in Syria. He suggests that regional changes, as mentioned above, and better networking of Kurds both inside and outside Syria, are causing alarm. Syrian Kurdish groups are coordinating with other Kurdish regional groups and groups in Europe. They are also becoming more active within Syria, emerging from secrecy and organising protests across the country.
‘The fear that Kurdish popular movements would become a general phenomenon in Syrian society has pushed the authorities to use all repressive means to try to tame the Kurds,’ Bashar said.
Syrian Kurds step up protests. Kurd Media, 17 October 2009.
Syria jails 3 Kurds for joining banned party. Maktoob News, 15 November 2009.
Syria jails four Kurds for banned party membership. Khaleej Times,10 November 2009.
الحكم بالسجن ثلاث سنوات بحق أعضاء في الهيئة القيادية لحزب أزادي الكردي. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 15 November 2009.
حكم جائر على أعضاء الهيئة القيادية لحزب آزادي. GemyaKurda, 15 November 2009.
Syria: Kurdish politician Mustafa Juma arrested. Kurd Net, 15 January 2009.