Two Syrian men taken custody in 'serial arrests'

Thursday, September 13, 2001

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Two activists have been arrested in Syria, a human rights group said Wednesday, raising to 10 the number of government opponents detained in recent weeks.

Haitham Maleh, head of the Human Rights Society in Syria, denounced the arrests of lawyers Habib Isa and Fawaz Tello, founding members of the group.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press in Damascus, Maleh demanded that Syrian authorities stop the "serial arrests" and urged the release of "all political prisoners." The statement did not say when the arrests took place. Calls to the human rights group's office went unanswered.

Authorities had no immediate comment on the arrest claim.

Since Aug. 7, police have detained eight others -- two independent legislators, a senior Communist leader and five men who attended a political forum.

Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, was arrested last week after being lured from his house by officials pretending they needed him to examine a patient. He and four others were detained after attending a political salon hosted by lawmaker Riyad Seif, who is also in custody.

The salon attracted some 200 people who discussed political and economic issues affecting Syria. Syria has refused since last February to give permission for such gatherings.

Since taking office in July 2000, Syrian President Bashar Assad has relaxed the tight controls his late father, Hafez, imposed on Syria. Hundreds of political prisoners have been freed.

But his government has also cracked down on opponents and political discussion groups.

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