Louay Hussein, a prominent Syrian opposition figure and opinion writer, was arrested on the Lebanese-Syrian border as he was leaving the country to visit his family in Spain, according to news reports and his political organization, Building the Syrian State Movement (BSS). The BSS movement, which has been tolerated by the Syrian government, seeks the establishment of a civil, democratic state but rejects military action and international intervention to achieve that goal.
According to his lawyer, Michel Shammas, a Syrian judge ordered Hussein’s detention pending an investigation into charges of undermining national spirit and morale and “publishing false news,” the reports said. The lawyer said the investigation centered around an article Hussein wrote for the pan-Arab daily Hayat on June 24, 2014, called “The Syrians do not feel they need the state.” In the article, Hussein criticized the Assad regime, arguing that the government had turned state institutions into machines of oppression, thereby undermining any sense of national unity or responsibility in the process, according to an English translation published by the website Open Democracy.
According to Amnesty International, the Syrian government said it had imposed a travel ban on Hussein on July 7, 2014, pending an investigation into the charges, and that he had been arrested for attempting to leave the country. But Hussein’s wife told Amnesty that he was never informed of the ban and that he had traveled multiple times outside of the country since the ban had purportedly been imposed.
Some news reports suggested Hussein’s arrest could also be related to a statement issued by BSS 10 days prior to his arrest that claimed the Syrian regime was collapsing and called on the Syrian people to seek a political settlement through the establishment of a coalition authority to replace the current regime.
In an article written for Open Democracy, BSS co-founder Talal al-Mayhani wrote that the charges were “a canned accusation used routinely by the regime to suppress freedom of expression.” He said that “Louay, not being naïve, always expected his arrest (or even his murder) at any time-the price of being politically active in Syria.”
Hussein was being held in Adra prison. He has been arrested twice before, according to news reports. From 1984 to 1991, he was imprisoned for his affiliation with the banned Communist party. Shortly after the protests began in Syria in 2011, Hussein was detained for a few days after issuing a statement in support of the right to protest and freedom of expression. In 2004, the Ministry of Interior ordered Hussein to stop writing after he published an article about the difficulties of renewing his passport, according to news reports.