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U.S. condemns jailing of Syrian dissidents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday condemned the sentencing of 12 leading Syrian dissidents sent to jail for advocating for freedom of expression and a democratic constitution in Syria.

A Syrian court sentenced 11 men and a woman to 2-1/2 years each in prison on Wednesday for political crimes.

“The United States condemns the sentencing of 12 members of the Damascus Declaration National Council to two and a half years in prison,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.

The dissidents were arrested last year in a case that drew international condemnation, with the United States and European nations repeatedly calling for their release. Syrian-U.S. are already strained after a deadly American raid on eastern Syria this week.

“This judgment once again underscores the Syrian regime’s contempt for the fundamental rights and freedoms of their people,” Perino said. “The Syrian regime cannot expect to be treated as a respected member of the international community when it engages in such systematic repression of its own citizens.”

The United States called for the immediate release of the 12 Damascus Declaration members, as well as all other political prisoners in Syria.

The 12, who are among Syria’s leading intellectuals and opposition figures, have been in jail since their arrest. Most of them are former political prisoners who had already spent long years in Syrian jails.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said those convicted had only exercised their rights and quoted an article in the Syrian constitution saying freedom was a “sacred right guaranteed by the state to its citizens”.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had said that the 12 were arrested because they had violated the constitution and some of them had associated themselves with what he described as anti-Syrian elements.

Writing by Joanne Allen; editing by Mohammad Zargham