Trading places

A former political prisoner, 70-year old Ghassan Najjar, has offered to take the place of Fidaa Akram al-Hourani, the head of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change who was arrested in December.
Syria, Fidaa Al-Hourani
Fidaa al-Hourani was arrested shortly after being elected at the head of the Damascus Declaration. R.R.

HOMS, May  5, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Ghassan Najjar made his unusual proposal in an article which has been published by many opposition and independent websites and newspapers in Syria.

"An educated militant lady such as Dr. Fidaa al-Hourani has been suffering from sickness and imprisonment for more than three months. Her Palestinian husband, Dr. Gazi al-Alyan, has been deported. No one is hearing her suffering, her retching or even her roaring. So I'm offering myself to the security services on the condition that this fine woman, the head of the Damascus Declaration, is released. I do this so that history wouldn't say that the proud Syrian people no longer has any  gentlemen and doesn't respond to the voices of our women."

Najjar assured MENASSAT that he is serious about his proposal, saying, "I am ready to take al-Hourani's place in jail. This is an honor to me. As an Arab society, we don't accept a woman staying in jail without getting any help."

The Syrian authorities so far haven't reacted to Najjar's proposal. But Najjar points out that even if al-Hourani's case has already been referred to the court system, it is perfectly possible for President Bashar Assad to order her release on humanitarian grounds alone. Al-Hourani is suffering from kidney disease and has had to be hospitalized once already since her imprisonment.

Damascus Declaration

Ghassan Najjar knows Syria's prisons well. He was jailed from 1980 until 1992 after he called for the release of political prisoners, the abolition of the special courts and the emergency law, and for more public freedom in general. He was released in 1992 following a campaign by Amnesty International.

He is a member of Syrian Human Rights association, and writes for Syrian newspapers and websites about the need for political and economical reform. His articles are known to be moderate and he expresses his opposition to the regime carefully. He was elected member of the secretariat of the so-called Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change during its first session in November 2005. He is also a member of the Journalists' Syndicate.

He also suffers from many diseases including an ulcer and heart disease as a result of the harsh conditions during his imprisonment.

Dr. Fidaa al-Hourani, 58, was arrested shortly after she was elected as the new head of the Damascus Declaration on December 1, 2007. Her husband, Dr. Ghazi al-Alyan, a Palestinian, was deported from Syria to Jordan for no apparent reason. Al-Hourani is the daughter of late politician Akram Hourani, founder of the Arab Socialist Party, later transformed into the Arab Socialist Baath Party after joining forces with Baath Party under the leadership of Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar.

Al-Hourani holds a medicine degree from the University of Baghdad, and is specialized in gynecology and obstetrics. She was head of the al-Hourani Hospital which she established in Hama, at the time of her arrest.

The Syrian authorities arrested dozens of members of the Damascus Declaration last year. Although most have been released since a dozen remain behind bars. They include Dr. Fidaa Akram al-Hourani, Dr. Ahmad Toome, Dr. Walid al-Benni, Marwan al-Ash, Akram al-Benni, Ali Abdullah, Mohammad Hajji Darwich, Dr. Yasser al-Itti, Jaber al-Shoufi, Riad Seif, Fayez Sara and plastic artist Talal abou Dan. 

All have been charged with trying to undermine the authorities, joining a secret association aiming to change the economical and social status of the government, inciting sectarian clashes and spreading lies. The accused have denied all the charges against them, saying that they are only calling for democratic change under the existing national laws.