HRW: Press Syria on human rights

Human rights group urges West to probe detention of pro-democracy activists.

Nasrallah Assad Ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Nasrallah Assad Ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
BEIRUT — Western nations must press Syria on its human rights record as the country emerges from international isolation, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The United States, France and other nations recently have boosted engagement with Syria, a country seen as key to peace in the region. Washington is hoping to draw Syria away from Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
"While Syrian officials are chatting up Western diplomats in their gilded front parlors, they're jailing anyone who dares to utter a critical word in their basement prison cells," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Syrian President Bashar Assad released hundreds of political prisonerswhen he succeeded his father in 2000, but later clamped down onpro-democracy activists. HRW says Syria is detaining human rightsactivists, journalists, and students.
The US has nominated itsfirst ambassador to Damascus since 2005 and sent top diplomats to meetwith Assad. Next week, the European Union's foreign policy chiefCatherine Ashton is scheduled to visit the country.
Despite itsefforts to woo Syria, Washington has not lifted sanctions on Damascus.First imposed by former President George W. Bush and renewed by USPresident Barack Obama in May, the sanctions cite Syria's support forterrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and otheractivities including efforts to undermine US operations in Iraq.
Calls to Syria's Foreign Ministry rang unanswered Thursday afternoon.