DAMASCUS, Syria - One of Syria's most vocal human-rights activists was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison, in a clear warning that the government will not tolerate dissent.
Anwar al-Bunni, who was among several dissidents held for the last year after Syria's biggest crackdown in years on critics of the regime, defiantly told the court he would not be silenced.
"This verdict is a political verdict," Bunni, a lawyer, told the court after a judge read out the verdict, according to his brother, Akram.
The United States, European Union and Amnesty International swiftly denounced the sentence.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Bunni's "arrest, detention and harsh sentence are yet another example of the Syrian regime's . . . blatant attempts to silence and intimidate the Syrian people."
Last April, Bunni reported on a suspected Islamic fundamentalist who died in prison, allegedly from torture, and spoke out in support of Kurdish dissidents amid a government crackdown against them.
A founding member of the Syrian Human Rights Association, he was also among 500 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals who signed the so-called Damascus Declaration that called on the Syrian government to improve ties with neighboring Lebanon, a sensitive issue in Syria. Last May, a week after signing the declaration, he and at least eight other activists were arrested.
Syrian authorities had no immediate comment on the verdict.