Syria Releases 16 Assyrians

4/28/2005 6:21:00 AM

DAMASCUS — Syria has released 16 Assyrians detained for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration last year, the Democratic Assyrian Organisation said yesterday.

It said the 16 were arrested last October for participating in a the demonstration held by hundreds of Assyrians in Hasaka province, some 700 kilometres northeast of Damascus, demanding that the government arrest an Arab who killed two members of the Assyrian community earlier.

The organisation welcomed the release of the 16 but called in a statement for the release of all political detainees.

Since succeeding his late father Hafez Assad in 2000, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has released hundreds of political prisoners, but also cracked down on pro-reform and pro-democracy activists, showing there are limits to dissent.

On March 30, Assad issued an amnesty for 312 Kurdish prisoners detained for taking part in anti-government riots last year.

Syria’s Assyrian population is estimated at more than 500,000 people. About 200,000 live in Hasaka and Qamishli in northeastern Syria. While they enjoy freedom of worship, some Assyrians seek minority status to promote their language, Assyrian, which only Assyrian churches now teach.