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      Human Rights Watch Blasts Syria; Obama Tries to ’Engage' Assad

      Human Rights Watch reports of a”wasted decade” in which Assad trampled rights. Obama still eyes Assad as key to Middle East peace.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 7/18/2010, 4:38 PM / Last Update: 7/18/2010, 4:59 PM

      Arutz 7

      The Human Rights Watch group has castigated Syrian President Bashar Assad for what it calls ‘a wasted decade” in which citizen’s rights were trampled in the country, which U.S. President Barack Obama sees as the key to a regional peace.

      After several failed attempts by U.S. President Barack Obama to “engage” Assad in the diplomatic process, including trying to return its ambassador to Damascus, outgoing Democratic Senator Arlen Specter flew to Syria, at least the 20th time he has sat down with Syrian officials.

      The U.S. State Department has kept the latest trip on low profile. The Obama administration already has been under fire for continuing to embrace Egypt despite a long record of ignoring human rights, and the United States officially Syria has labeled as a state that supports terror.

      The latest report on Syrian violations of right is one of the harshest ever against the country since the 1980s, when Assad’s father Hafez was in power. "When he [Bashar] first came to power, there was a period of leniency from July 2000 to August 2001," Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Babylon & Beyond. "But then, there was a crackdown and the repression has been constant."

      The report, entitled, “A Wasted Decade: Human Rights in Syria during Bashar al-Assad’s First Ten Years in Power," castigates him for repressing political activists, gagging free speech, using torture, attacking Kurds and arresting opponents or critics who subsequently “disappear,” similar to a tactic by the Iranian regime.

      "Everyone runs the risk of being tangled up. They include bloggers, Kurds, Islamists, pro-democracy types, journalists," Houry said. The report quoted one dissident as saying that the only difference between the 1980s and now is that opponents have a trial before being thrown in jail.

      Several examples of violations of rights are Syria’s sentencing a blogger to three years in prison for "insulting security services" and "weakening national sentiment" and the imprisonment of a 67-year-old man after security forces overheard him insulting Assad at a café in Damascus.

      "He was never serious about true reform," Houry added. "He was willing to engage in superficial reform as long as it did not challenge or question the regime. His main goal – as he often himself put it – was to reform the economy."