Summary and Current Status
Syrian mechanical engineer Fateh Jamous has been arrested three times, solely for the nonviolent exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association and for his work as a human rights defender. Since his first arrest in 1982, Mr. Jamous has served a total of more than 19 years in prison. He has been at liberty since October 12, 2006.
Mr. Jamous was arrested for the first time on February 2, 1982, under suspicion of involvement in the banned political opposition group, the Labor Communist Party, a nonviolent group campaigning for free elections in Syria. After spending more than a decade in detention, he was finally brought to trial before the State Supreme Security Court (SSSC) in June 1992. Mr. Jamous was tried on charges of "forming or belonging to an organization intended to change the social and economic structure of the state and society's fundamental conditions" and "opposition to the objectives of the Revolution." He was found guilty of "opposition to the social system of the state and Arab unity" and "terrorism." Mr. Jamous was convicted of "terrorism" even though he was not charged with committing or planning any act of violence or terrorism and, according to reliable reports, no evidence was presented in court to suggest that he had ever used or advocated violence. Furthermore, no indication reportedly was given in court that the Labor Communist Party had ever used, planned, or advocated violence.
The SSSC was created by Legislative Decree 47 of 28 March 1968, for the sole purpose of dealing with political and state security cases. According to numerous reports by human rights organizations, the United Nations, and the international press, procedures followed in the SSSC violate almost all of the internationally recognized standards for free and fair trials. For example, lawyers of defendants tried by the SSSC are not guaranteed access to their clients or given the opportunity to review case files prior to trial. During trial, the court often denies lawyers the opportunity to engage in oral argument on behalf of their clients. Furthermore, defendants sentenced by the SSSC have no right to appeal the verdicts to a higher authority.
On January 11, 1994, Mr. Jamous received a 15-year prison sentence, which, according to Syrian law, was to apply from the date of arrest, not the date of sentencing. Upon completion of his full sentence, however, he was not released from prison. Under the Syrian judicial system, Mr. Jamous had no right to challenge the legality of his detention beyond the expiration of his prison sentence. This clearly constituted a violation of Article 9(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, "Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that the court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful." Nearly three more years passed before Mr. Jamous was finally released from prison on May 4, 2000.
For further background information on this and other cases in Syria during this time period, see the CHR report Scientists and Human Rights in Syria.
Following his release, Mr. Jamous returned to his home in the village of Bisnada on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. He was interviewed for an article that appeared in The Guardian newspaper on June 22, 2000. In the article, Mr. Jamous described himself as "an enthusiastic communist" and spoke of his determination to campaign for free elections in Syria. With regard to his imprisonment, he is quoted as saying, "I do not regret about anything at all. Freedom requires many sacrifices." According to other press accounts, Mr. Jamous called the November 2000 release of some 600 political prisoners by President Bashir al-Assad "a positive and beneficial step towards a democratic movement in Syria" and urged the president to end emergency and martial law in effect since 1963.
Mr. Jamous was arrested for the second time on August 23, 2003. His re-arrest occurred while he was attending a lecture marking the 40th anniversary of the declaration of the state of emergency in Syria. This time he was charged with “affiliation to a secret organization and carrying out acts which could incite factional conflict within the nation.” Mr. Jamous was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. In late 2003, he was released from prison after charges against him were dropped following a presidential decree.
In early 2006, Mr. Jamous traveled to Europe. During his trip he addressed an Amnesty International (AI) conference in Sweden on human rights and asylum issues and met with the Swedish Parliamentary Human Rights Group. In Great Britain, he appeared on a radio program promoting Arab-Kurdish dialogue and peaceful reform in Syria. According to his family, on April 15, 2006, while he was in London, the Syrian authorities reportedly issued a warrant for his arrest.
On May 1, 2006, when Mr. Jamous arrived at the Damascus airport after his trip, officers of State security arrested him for a third time. Initially he reportedly was detained at State Security Branch 255 in Damascus, although his family was not given any information about him and was not allowed to see him. Reports indicate that he was transferred first to Saidnaya military prison and then, on May 11, 2006, to ’Adra prison on the outskirts of Damascus. While in ’Adra prison he was held with common criminals, one of whom reportedly beat him. During this time, AI adopted Mr. Jamous as a prisoner of conscience.
On May 14, 2006, Mr. Jamous reportedly was charged with “aggression aiming to incite civil war and sectarian fighting and incitement to kill” (which carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty) and “leading an armed gang” seeking to attack the state. On October 12, 2006, these charges reportedly were dropped due to a lack of evidence, and he was unexpectedly released from prison.