More than two dozen human rights groups appealed to Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday to free three rights campaigners imprisoned in Syria.
The 25 organizations called on Assad to free pro-democracy writer Michel Kilo, political activist Kamal Labwani, and prominent lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, "who have been jailed only because they practiced their right of free expression."
The signatories included groups from around the world, including Egypt, Russia and countries in Asia and Africa, according to a copy of the statement faxed to AP by the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, one of Egypt's top independent rights groups.
In mid May, Kilo was convicted by a Damascus court and sentenced to three years in prison for spreading false news, weakening national feeling and inciting sectarian sentiments.
Kilo has long been an outspoken critic of the Syrian government, which tightly controls national politics and often arrests its critics. He has called for reform in Syria and has criticized the government's involvement in the political affairs of its smaller neighbor, Lebanon.
Since May, six government critics and human rights campaigners have been arrested and convicted and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison. Al-Bunni was sentenced to five years in prison and Labwani to 12 years.
The US State Department strongly criticized Assad's courts for sentencing al-Bunni and Labwani on similar charges involving anti-government activity.
Soon after coming to power in 2000, Assad freed hundreds of political prisoners and passed laws aimed at liberalizing the state-controlled economy. But he has since clamped down on political activists, jailing pro-democracy advocates and cracking down on government critics.