Kamal Labwani is a prominent activist for reform and democracy in Syria. He was born in Zebadani, Syria in 1957 and graduated from the medical school at Damascus University in 1981. During his college years he worked with Riad at-Turk (a known opponent to the Syrian government) in an underground Communist Party.
After four years he left the party partly due to the lack of democracy within it. He then went to establish a medical clinic but he also stayed in touch with the political issues surrounding him.
Labwani became involved in the Damascus Spring and joined the Committees for the Defense of Human Rights, the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society and created a forum for national dialogue with Riad Seif (an independent member of the Syrian National Assembly). However, the Damascus Spring only lasted from 2000 to 2001.
On September 9, 2001, both he and Riad Seif were arrested. Labwani was convicted to three years and two days in solitary confinement in jail. After his release, he became dedicated to political activism and reform in Syria. He established a political union (parties are banned in Syria). His union’s platform was based on three principles: democracy, liberalism, and secularism.
He advocated for civil marriages, complete equality for women including equal inheritance, and separation of religion and state. Labwani had also founded the Democratic Liberal Gathering which was described by the Human Rights Watch as “a group of Syrian intellectuals and activists who advocate for peaceful change in Syria.”Unfortunately in November 2005 after returning home from a tour through the U.S. and Europe with White House officials, journalists and human rights organizations, he was arrested at Damascus Airport.
He was convicted for having contacts with the “enemy” and for “encouraging attacks against Syria.” He was convicted to imprisonment for life but his sentence was commuted to twelve years of hard labor and confinement. This has been the harshest punishment for a dissident of the Syrian government since President Bashar Assad came to power after his father’s death in 2000.
It was reported that at the word of his verdict Labwani was at first shocked, but then in a defiant gesture he gave a faint smile and raised his fist in the air without speaking. Rights groups and organizations from around the world have condemned his punishment. They have complained that his health is deteriorating due to the conditions of his confinement in an underground cell in total darkness.
Labwani has said in regards to his country that “the tragedy of my homeland is to have no Law and therefore people have no immunity from injustice nor can they enjoy basic human rights.” To this day he remains imprisoned in Syrian jails despite the loud outcry from the international community.