The government of President Bashar al-Asad must put an end to the recent wave of arrests of activists in Syria, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today.

In a letter to President al-Asad, Human Rights Watch documented the arrests in the last three months of 26 Syrian activists that appear to be tied solely to the exercise by these activists of their guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association.

“President al-Asad needs to rein in his internal security forces,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “As long as people like these are hauled off without a charge, it is hard to believe that anything has changed in Syria.”

The letter to al-Asad highlights the recent arrests of Syrian activists following their return to Syria after attending conferences abroad, and the continued detention by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence agency of eight young men – mostly university students – for what appears to be their participation in a peaceful pro-democracy forum.

Human Rights Watch also requested information on the whereabouts of the writer Ali al-Abdullah and his son Muhammad, who have been in incommunicado detention for more than 18 days.

Attached to the letter is an annex detailing the 26 arrests of activists during the past three months.