Syria frees more than 1,000 prisoners as pressure mounts


Syria released prominent dissident Kamal Labwani and more than 1,000 other prisoners on Tuesday, his daughter and state media reported, as Damascus came under increasing diplomatic pressure over its crackdown on protesters.

Labwani, 54, was released less than half way through a 15-year jail term on charges that he insulted President Bashar al-Assad and incited a foreign country to invade Syria.

Labwani’s daughter Hind told Reuters he was “okay” but not aware of the scale of the uprising against Assad’s rule that had swept the country since March while he was in prison.

“He was not allowed to read, watch or listen to any media,” she told Reuters by phone from the family’s home in the resort town of Zabadani on mountainous border with Lebanon.

The official state news agency said 1,180 detainees arrested during the uprising were also freed on Tuesday.

The Arab League on Saturday suspended Syria in protest at its violent crackdown on dissent and failure to implement an Arab peace initiative.

Human rights organizations say tens of thousands of people arrested for political reasons during the uprising remain in jail and thousands are counted as missing.

The government blames armed gangs sponsored from abroad for killing at least 1,100 troops and police.

Labwani, a doctor, was arrested at Damascus airport in 2005 as he returned from Washington, where he had discussed human rights concerns with White House officials.

He was sentenced to 12 years with hard labor for inciting an invasion.

In 2008, he was sentenced to another three years after fellow prisoners said they heard him insult Assad, who has ruled Syria since inheriting power from his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

The United States, the European Union and human rights groups have repeatedly called for Labwani’s release.