13 prisoners in hunger strike action

Thirteen Syrian political prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest against "political detentions and oppression" in their country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced the hunger strike on the eve of the anniversary of a 1963 coup when Syria's Baath Party seized power, banning any opposition and imposing emergency laws which are still in place.

President Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad as ruler in 2000.

The list of striking prisoners included Haitham al-Maleh, 80, a former judge serving a three-year jail term after criticising corruption in Syria, and lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, jailed for five years in 2007 for "weakening public morale".

"The time has come to end this state of oppression, in line with the winds of democratic change sweeping through the Arab world," the organisation quoted the prisoners saying.

"Therefore, we the political prisoners in Adra prison … have decided to go on hunger strike, demanding an end to political detentions, lifting oppression and restoring rights."

Syrian authorities have intensified a long-running campaign of arrests of dissidents and opposition figures since mass protests overthrew rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.

A teenager who wrote articles on the internet saying she yearned for a role in shaping the future of Syria was sentenced recently to five years in prison, despite American calls for her release.

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