Syria sentences two for 'false Hariri trial testimony'

AFP , Thursday 20 Feb 2014

A Syrian court has sentenced two men to prison for giving "false testimony" implicating Damascus in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a Syrian newspaper said Thursday.

The Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, said a court on Wednesday sentenced Murad Akram to 10 years in prison, including five years with hard labour, and Zuhair Mohamed Said Saddiq to 20 years in prison with 10 years of hard labour.

Saddiq was sentenced in absentia, but Akram has been in custody in Syria since May 2011, when he was transferred from Lebanon after serving out a prison term for drug trafficking there.

The two men, both Syrians, were accused of providing false testimony to an international tribunal investigating Hariri's 2005 assassination.

Their testimony implicated the four highest-ranking officers in Lebanon in Hariri's death, accusing them of collaborating with Syria to kill him.

The four officers spent years in prison in Lebanon before being released for lack of evidence.

One of them sued Saddiq and Akram in Syria for giving false testimony, leading to the sentences handed down on Thursday.

Both men later recanted their testimony, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that investigated Hariri's death ultimately failed to implicate Syria in the assassination.

Instead, it is hearing the case against five members of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement, a close ally of Syria.

Hariri was killed in a powerful suicide bomb attack in February 2005 in downtown Beirut.

The backlash against his killing led Syria to withdraw its troops from the country at the end of April, ending a presence that lasted nearly 30 years.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon began hearing the case against the five Hezbollah suspects earlier this year, but the men are being tried in absentia as Hezbollah has refused to turn them over.

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