Summary and Current Status
Syrian engineer Fawwaz Tello was an active member of the Forum for Democratic Dialogue and the Human Rights Society of Syria. He was one of a group of ten prominent Syrians who were arbitrarily arrested by military intelligence in August and September of 2001 for their participation in civil society forums promoting political and economic reform in Syria. The State Supreme Security Court (SSSC) found him guilty of "undermining the constitution, inciting sedition, and propagating lies." At the time that he was unexpectedly released from prison on January 18, 2006, Mr. Tello had served all but seven months of his five-year sentence.
On September 12, 2001, Mr. Tello was arrested in the pre-dawn hours outside his house in Damascus by security forces. He was reportedly arrested for his involvement and participation in a political forum organized by the National Dialogue Forum (a non-violent civil society organization) which met, without official permission, on September 5, 2001, in the house of independent parliamentarian Riad Seif. (MP Seif reportedly applied for official permission to hold the forum in February 2001. After trying for seven months without success to obtain permission, he decided to hold the forum anyway.)
Upon his arrest, Mr. Tello was initially incarcerated incommunicado and in solitary confinement. He was not permitted to leave his cell for 45 days. He was reportedly not allowed to communicate with his lawyer and family until November 2001. Moreover, it is reported that Mr. Tello was not allowed access to newspapers, books or radios. Half-hour long family visits were allowed once a fortnight.
On May 9, 2002, eight months after his arrest, Mr. Tello was brought to trial before the SSSC. It was only then that he was informed of the charges brought against him. Although the prosecution reportedly failed to produce any credible evidence to support the charges, Mr. Tello was convicted by the SSSC on July 31, 2002. About one month later, on August 28, 2002, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
According to Amnesty International, the SSSC lacks both independence and impartiality, and “trials before the SSSC breach international fair trial standards and fail to meet the requirements of Syria’s own laws or conform with practices in Syria’s ordinary courts.” Defendants’ legal counsel reportedly is not free to meet their clients in detention without written permission from the president of the SSSC, which is often withheld. According to Human Rights Watch, lawyers of defendants tried by the SSSC are not guaranteed access to clients prior to trial, trial proceedings begin before lawyers have had an opportunity to see the case files, and the court often denies lawyers the opportunity to engage in oral arguments on behalf of their clients. Furthermore, defendants sentenced by the SSSC have no right to appeal their verdicts to a higher authority.
Mr. Tello was considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, which, along with other international human rights groups, had called for his unconditional release.