Dr. Kamal al-Labwani
|Born||October 10, 1957|
|Known for||Democracy Campaigner, Prisoner of Conscience|
Dr. Kamal al-Labwani (born October 10, 1957 in Zabadani, Syria) is a Syrian doctor and artist, considered one of the most prominent members of the Syrian opposition movement. He was released from Adra Prison, near Damascus on November 15, 2011, according to state media.1 Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.2
Dr. Al-Labwani comes from the small town of Zabadani in the Rif Dimashq province, close to the Lebanese border.
He founded the Syrian Liberal Democratic Union and joined the "Damascus Spring" movement, which briefly flourished after Bashar al-Assad became President of Syria in June 2001 after the death of his father.
Kamal al-Labwani was arrested in September 2001 after attending a political seminar in the house of fellow activist and politician Riad Seif. Al-Labwani was taken to ‘Adra prison and held initially in incommunicado detention and then in solitary confinement. Subsequently he gained access to his lawyer and he was allowed family visits. On 28 August 2002 the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) sentenced him to three years in prison on charges including "inciting armed revolt". After serving his sentence he was released in September 2004.
During his first imprisonment al-Labwani was not allowed writing or reading materials but obtained painting supplies in his cell after holding a hunger strike,3 during which he lost 20 kg. He wrote two books and several poems "in his head", but most of his paintings were confiscated. In 2005, he managed to bring about 40 of his paintings to England, which were then shown at an exhibition in Basildon.4 With the sale of some of his paintings, he financed his trips to the U.S. and through Europe, attempting to raise support for the opposition in Syria, on a platform of democracy and human rights. During these trips he attended the Liberal Democrats’ Conference and visited the UK Houses of Parliament, the European Parliament, and the White House. He was the first human rights defender and dissident from inside Syria to be invited to discuss the case for Syrian Democracy at the White House.
On his return to Syria on 8 November 2005, al-Labwani was arrested at Damascus International Airport, since which time he has been imprisoned in Adra prison in Damascus. His cell, intended to house 32 but containing more than 60, is in Wing 5, which is normally reserved for violent prisoners.
On 10 May 2007, al-Labwani was sentenced by the criminal court in Damascus to 12 years in prison, with hard labour, on charges of "communicating with a foreign country and inciting it to initiate aggression against Syria",5 despite no evidence being presented by the prosecution other than their interpretation of “diplomatic pressure” to mean “violent aggression".
On 23 April 2008 he was sentenced by a military court in Damascus to an additional three years in prison, on charges of "weakening national sentiment" and "insulting the head of state", bringing his total sentence to 15 years. The only evidence against him was that prepared for them and read out by his fellow prisoners.
In May 2008, the European Union Presidency issued a Declaration condemning the additional sentence handed down to Dr. al-Labwani, and called for his immediate release and for him to be treated humanely whilst imprisoned. The Declaration asserted that the sentence clearly violated the principles of the rule of law and contradicted Syria's international obligations and commitments, specifically citing the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which Syria is a signatory.
In March 2009, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a UN body responsible for the investigation of complaints of arbitrary detention, released its opinion that al-Labwani’s imprisonment constituted arbitrary detention. The Working Group concluded that Dr. Labwani “had been condemned for the peaceful expression of his political views and for having carried out political activities” that are protected under international law, and also deemed his trial unfair.6
Months into the uprising in Syria, the Syrian government announced on November 15, 2011 that it had released 1,180 prisoners, in what appeared to be an effort to show flexibility and sincerity only hours before the Arab League was set to suspend Syria as punishment for President Bashar al-Assad’s repression of dissent. Rights activists confirmed that the freed prisoners included Kamal al-Labwani, halfway through his 15-year sentence. Reuters quoted his daughter as saying that Mr. Labwani had no idea that Syria was in the throes of an upheaval, having been denied outside contact.7
- "Arab League steps up pressure on Syria". Reuters. 16 November 2011.
- "Syria: activists forced into hiding by threats". Amnesty International. 6 May 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
- Bakri, Nada; Gladstone, Rick (15 November 2011). "Death Toll Mounts in Syria, Along With Outside Pressure". The New York Times.
- Campaigning For Kamal Blog at Amnesty International
- Free Kamal al-Labwani Facebook Group
- Slideshow of Dr. al-Labwani's artwork
- List of representations made to the UK and European parliament on Dr. al-Labwani's behalf