TORONTO (Feb. 5)
Syrian officials recently ruled that two Jewish brothers jailed in Damascus will have to serve their full prison sentences of 6 1/2 years, the National Task Force for Syrian Jewry of the Canadian Jewish Congress has learned.
The Syrian decision to keep Eli and Selim Swed imprisoned, made despite appeals from the Canadian and American governments, was confirmed this week by Canada’s ambassador to Damascus, Martin Collacott, in a memo to Canada’s External Affairs Department in Ottawa.
Judy Feld Carr, chairman of the CJC task force, said she received reliable information last week that in December, the brothers’ sentence was “confirmed by the authorities, even though there was hope of suspension of it after eight months.”
“The sentence appears to be etched in stone,” another source said.
The news dashed Syrian Jewry activists’ hopes that the Damascus brothers would be released in a general amnesty marking the recent re-election of Syrian President Hafez Assad to a fourth seven-year term.
At the time of the election, some 800 prisoners were set free, including four Jews released Nov. 28, who were being held for trying to flee the country. A week later, 2,062 more prisoners were released.
Carr said Syrian Jews are praying “that a miracle will happen to lift” the men “from this misery.”
She expressed grave concern for the brothers’ well-being. “Their condition is not very good,” she said. “They were tortured at the beginning — definitely.” But the torture has ceased, she added.
CANADIANS APPEALED FOR CLEMENCY
Carr has devoted the last two decades to working on behalf of the 4,300 Jews confined to the ghettos of Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli, the persecuted remnants of an ancient and once thriving community that numbered 40,000 in 1947.
Eli Swed, now 31, disappeared from his home in the Damascus Jewish ghetto in November 1987, she said. Selim, now 50, was arrested the following month. After repeated inquiries by Amnesty International’s Canadian branch and the U.N. Committee on Disappearance, Syrian officials acknowledged the two were being held incommunicado.
On May 21, 1991, after being incarcerated for 3 1/2 years without charge in a Mukhabarat (secret police) prison in the Syrian capital, the brothers were sentenced to 6 1/2 years in Damascus’ Adra prison, which is notorious for its torture cell.
The charges against them were never disclosed. Their lawyer was not permitted to be present in the courtroom during the brief closed trial, nor was he allowed to present a defense.
In June, at the behest of External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall, Ambassador Collacott personally appealed for clemency to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara.
Member of Parliament Bill Attewell raised the issue in the House of Commons on May 31, blasting the Syrians’ mistreatment of the Sweds as “bizarre and inhumane.”