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WikiLeaks: 2006-05-11: 06DAMASCUS2214: Labwani Attends Formal Hearing; Family and Lawyers Request USG, European Support

by WikiLeaks. 06DAMASCUS2214: May 11, 2006.

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 04:07 PM UTC


Viewing cable 06DAMASCUS2214, LABWANI ATTENDS FORMAL HEARING; FAMILY AND LAWYERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06DAMASCUS2214 2006-05-11 14:02 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy
Damascus
VZCZCXRO1350
OO RUEHAG
DE RUEHDM #2214/01 1311402
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 111402Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8932
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0050
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 002214 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/11/2016 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SY
SUBJECT: LABWANI ATTENDS FORMAL HEARING; FAMILY AND LAWYERS 
REQUEST USG, EUROPEAN SUPPORT 
 
REF: DAMASCUS 2166 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche
 for reasons 1.4(b)/(d) 
 
1.  (C)  SUMMARY: Jailed opposition activist Kamal Labwani 
appeared before the presiding judge in his case on May 11 for 
an initial hearing, with the opening trial date to be 
announced in the upcoming days.  Labwani faces charges of 
advocating the invasion of Syria by a foreign power and 
spreading disinformation, with sentencing ranging from 23 
years in prison to the death penalty, should an invasion 
occur.  Labwani's lawyers are already predicting a guilty 
verdict.  Labwani's lawyers and family members requested that 
the USG make a public statement regarding the general 
crackdown on civil society and mention Labwani's case as an 
example.  Labwani's supporters have yet to develop a coherent 
public relations campaign to increase international attention 
to the case, a symptom of a greater strategic weakness within 
Syrian civil society and the fear of potential SARG reprisals 
for speaking out in public.  END SUMMARY. 
 
 
2.  (C)  Jailed opposition activist Kamal Labwani appeared in 
a Damascus criminal court May 11 to face charges by the 
Syrian government connected to his visit to Europe and the 
U.S. in November 2005.  Labwani was formally charged with one 
count of urging a foreign government to invade Syria, which 
carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, with a 
death sentence should an invasion indeed take place.  He was 
also charged with one count of spreading false information, 
which carries a sentence of three to five years.  The chief 
officiating judge subjected Labwani to one and one half hours 
of questioning in the presence of his lawyers.  Family 
members, lawyers representing various human rights 
organizations, and Poloff were not allowed to enter the 
proceedings.  No other diplomatic representatives attended. 
The opening trial date is expected to be announced by the 
presiding judge within the next several days. 
 
3.  (C)  Defense lawyers noted that because the trial will be 
held in criminal court (vice security court), it should, in 
theory, be open to the public and press, but that the SARG 
could decide to close the chambers. According to defense team 
member Anwar al-Bunni, a panel of three judges will preside 
over the case.  Noting that one judge, an ethnic Assyrian, is 
sympathetic to civil society's cause, Bunni predicted that 
the case will result in the judges finding Labwani guilty in 
a two-to-one decision, as was the case in the 2001 
convictions of Damascus Spring activists Riad Seif and Mamoun 
al-Homsi. 
 
4.  (C)  Both the Labwani family and the defense team urged 
the USG to make public statements on the crackdown on Syrian 
civil society in general and to include Labwani as one of 
several specific examples of political persecution.  Defense 
lawyers Muhanned al-Hasani and Bunni added that such efforts 
should be conducted in tandem with European statements, and 
noted that they plan to lobby the Austrian and UK Embassies 
to make statements on Labwani's behalf.  The Labwani family 
also noted that they have been in touch with Labwani's 
European contacts who will be lobbying their respective 
European Parliament members.  In an earlier meeting on May 9, 
the Labwani family noted that they had not met with European 
embassies since Labwani's arrest in November, but are 
considering doing so again.  They have also been in contact 
with a number of Amnesty International local chapters in 
Europe, but not with its international headquarters. Now that 
the trial is set to begin in earnest, the Labwani family 
requested USG help in mobilizing international and regional 
media coverage of the event, asserting that USG 
representatives had promised Labwani help during his October 
2005 visit to the U.S.  However, the Labwani family is leery 
of making too many public statements themselves, fearing 
reprisals from security forces. 
 
5.  (C)  COMMENT:  While defense lawyers only had about 12 
hours notice of Labwani's hearing, the sparse attendance by 
civil society activists and diplomatic community (Poloff was 
the only diplomat in attendance) indicate that Labwani's case 
continues to receive less attention and support than the 
cases of other activists facing prosecution like those of 
Haithem al-Maleh and Hassan Abdulazeem.  Similarly, while ad 
hoc measures like single interviews by activists and 
attorneys take place or occasional Arabic language press 
releases continue to appear, it seems that neither local 
human rights organizations nor the Labwani family have 
developed a strong, coherent public relations strategy to 
 
DAMASCUS 00002214  002 OF 002 
 
 
engage international interest in this potential death penalty 
case.  This missing strategy further demonstrates the 
relative weakness of Syrian civil society and its lack of 
organizational savvy, as well as a genuine fear of reprisal 
from SARG authorities for pushing too hard publicly.  END 
COMMENT. 
SECHE

 


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