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Syria arrests leading human rights lawyer in apparent crackdown on dissidents

[JURIST] Syrian authorities have arrested leading human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni [2005 interview; Amnesty International backgrounder] just days after Sunday's arrest of prominent writer Michel Kilo [BBC News report], prompting speculation that a large government crackdown on dissidents is underway. Amnesty International [advocacy website] said in a statement Wednesday that at least eight civil society activists have been arrested in the past week, mostly in connection with their signature of the so-called Beirut-Damascus Declaration of 12 May, which calls for normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon, a properly demarcated border, the release of political prisoners and the exchanging of ambassadors. The declaration, signed by some 300 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals and published in Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar [media website], echoes appeals made in newly-adopted [BBC report] UN Security Council Resolution 1680 [summary and text] urging Syria to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Activists fear that some of the detainees may be tortured. Reports say al-Bunni was forced into a car and taken away without an arrest warrant.

Syria withdrew it military forces and intelligence units from Lebanon last year, but is still considered to exercise great influence in the country. Syrian agents are said to have been behind the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and others in a massive Beirut bombing. A UN commission is still investigating the assassination [JURIST news archive]. BBC News has more.

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