'Syria's Mandela': Veteran Assad regime dissident Riad Turk smuggled out of Syria to France
Riad Turk, a Syrian dissident who spent years in prison for his fierce opposition to the Damascus regime, has arrived in France, after being exfiltrated out of the country by militants into neighbouring Turkey, sources told AFP on Monday.
Turk, 88, had gone into hiding in recent years after being freed from his last spell in jail in 2002, for declaring "the dictator is dead" after the death of former president Hafez al-Assad.
In total he spent 17 years imprisoned, often without trial, on claims of various offences under Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar when he became Syria's president.
"He arrived in France two or three days ago," a Syrian opposition figure now living in Paris told AFP, calling it "very good news".
Another Syrian source, exiled in France, also confirmed Turk's arrival, first reported in the Lebanese daily L'Orient - Le Jour.
According to the Syrian journalist Ala Atassi, quoted by the newspaper, Turk "was able to leave Syria thanks to militants who helped him reach the Syria-Turkey border, and is now safe and sound in France," where one of his daughters lives.
Turk was the long-time leader of the dissident Syrian Communist Party - Political Bureau, which was outlawed by Bashar al-Assad and later renamed the Syrian Democratic People's Party.
He quickly supported the peaceful opposition which broke out in 2011 and later backed the Syrian National Council which brought together opponents of Assad as the country's civil war intensified.
"Our revolution is peaceful, popular and rejects sectarianism, and the Syrian people are one," he declared in October 2011.
"There will be no compromise nor negotiations about our goal of toppling this despotic regime."
Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab