DAMASCUS, Syria, June 19 (UPI) -- Syria has stepped up a campaign against political activists accusing an opposition figure of contacting the U.S. to incite an attack against Syria.
A statement by the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said Kamal Labwani appeared in court Monday in the presence of the organization's lawyers to face charged of establishing contacts with a foreign country with the aim of instigating an attack against Syria, a crime punishable by death.
The organization's chief, Amer Kurbi, said when Labwani asked the court to identify the foreign country, the judge replied, "the United States."
Labwani was arrested at the beginning of the year upon his return from Washington where he had met U.S. officials and was interviewed by the U.S.-funded Arabic- language al-Hurra Television.
Kurbi said the public prosecutor considered Labwani's call for increasing pressures on Syria is tantamount to contacts with a hostile state and instigation of attack against Damascus, which are punishable under articles 264 and 287 of the penal code.
The defense lawyers asked to watch Labwani's interview with al-Hurra and requested postponing the defense hearing to July 16.
In another development, Kurbi said Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otari ordered the dismissal of 17 civil servants without providing any reasons.
He said the mass dismissal is believed to be related to the so-called Beirut-Damascus declaration signed by Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals calling for the rectification of Lebanese-Syrian relations.
Kurbi said the dismissal decision affected mostly intellectuals from the province of Sweida, south of Damascus.
He said "the decision is not acceptable neither under the constitution nor under the law and constituted a clear violation of the principle of the constitution which separates between the authorities and the judiciary."
Syria rounded up several political activists last month accusing them of signing the Beirut-Damascus declaration and undermining national unity.