Syria releases eminent political prisoner after seven years in jail

Other News Materials 7 August 2008 23:38 (UTC +04:00)

Syria released Aref Dalilah, one of the country's most prominent dissidents, on Thursday after seven years in jail.

Several Arab human rights groups had been calling for his release, saying his health was deteriorating.

"My health is good, I just need some medical care," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa .

Dalilah, whose release was also urged by international rights groups, said he could not confirm whether he was granted his freedom after a presidential pardon.

"All that time I had no idea why I was jailed and now I have no idea how I was released. But what happened today should have happened many years ago," Dalilah told dpa.

"I hope all political prisoners would be released," he said.

Dalilah, 68, was arrested with other pro-democracy activists and critics of the government in September 2001 during what was known as the 'Damascus Spring Period' when civil society and cultural groups flourished in Syria for the first time since the 1960s.

The former head of economics at Damascus University was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is the last to be released from those detained with him in 2001.

While in prison, Dalilah was said to have suffered from an inflammation of the veins. In March 2002, several political prisoners began a hunger strike to force the authorities to provide treatment for him. The strike ended after the eminent economist was hospitalised.

"I have come back to life again," Dalilah said.