A prominent Syrian opposition figure who spent years in regime prisons before the country’s revolution and civil war erupted has died from coronavirus in exile in Paris.
Michel Kilo, 81, was first jailed by Hafez Al Assad, father of current president Bashar Al Assad, in the early 1980s for almost three years.
He spent a second stint in jail between 2006 and 2009 for his persistent opposition to the Assad regime.
Kilo died of complications from Covid-19 in a hospital in Paris, where he had lived in exile with his family since the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011.
His death “is a big loss for Syria", his daughter Sada told Associated Press. "He was the tolerant moderate mind, forgiving, loving. He was respected, even by his enemies.”
A committed Marxist, Kilo's opposition activities began in the 1980s when he opposed the trials of Muslim Brotherhood members by the regime of Hafez Al Assad.
In 2005, he was a key figure in drafting the Damascus Declaration, a document that called for Syria's gradual transition to democracy from a one-party dictatorship.
The following year, Kilo signed another declaration, alongside hundreds of other prominent Syrian and Lebanese activists and intellectuals, calling for the normalisation of relations between Syria and Lebanon.
Syria had dominated Lebanon for decades, including through a military occupation that only ended in 2005.
The declarations led to Kilo's second arrest and another three years in prison.
A Christian from the coastal city of Latakia, his criticism was not reserved solely for the Syrian regime.
Kilo was fiercely critical of the opposition groups that took up arms after 2011, as well as the Kurdish autonomous region established in Syria's north-east in the wake of the war's outbreak.
At the start of the uprising, he encouraged peaceful protests but warned that an armed uprising would lead to civil war.
For decades prior to that, Kilo had concentrated his efforts on opposing the Syrian regime from within the confines of the country's one-party Baathist state.
In 2015, he warned that foreign meddling had made Syria’s situation worse.
"We are hostages to meticulous political and diplomatic games," he said.
Tributes for Kilo poured in from across the spectrum of Syria’s opposition.
Among them, senior opposition figure Nasr Al Hariri said: “Michel was an intellectual and patriotic powerhouse and his dream was to see a free and democratic Syria. God willing, the Syrian people will carry on this dream and see it through.”
Syrian intellectual Yassin Al Haj Saleh wrote: “I am very sorry for the passing of Michel Kilo, the intellectual and activist, who did not tire, nor get bored. A national loss despite all possible disagreements and differences.”
Joel Rayburn, the former US special envoy for Syria, said “the loss is incalculable”.
Kilo is survived by his wife, his daughter, and two sons, all of whom are in exile in France.