DAMASCUS - Syria charged the leader of a human rights group with spreading false news but released eight others on Monday who had been held after publicising a statement by a banned Islamist group, a rights activist said.

Ammar Qurabi of the Arab Organisation of Human Rights in Syria (AOHRS) said his group's chief, Mohammad Raadoun, was sent for trial on charges of "spreading false news and (illegally) belonging to an international organisation".

Raadoun is a member of the Cairo-based Arab Organisation of Human Rights. The law requires state consent for membership in international political and social bodies.

"He is in custody but there is no maltreatment or torture. He was investigated today (Monday) in the presence of his lawyer and his answers have been accurately documented," said Qurabi.

Raadoun might face a jail sentence if found guilty, he said.

In a separate case, eight members of the board of the Jamal al-Atasi Forum were freed after a week of questioning for allowing their forum's podium to be used for a statement by the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, said Qurabi.

However, Ali Abdullah, another member of the Forum's board, remained in custody, he said. Abdullah read the statement at a function organised by the Forum.

The Forum, which calls for wider participation in the Arab state's political life, has said that it had asked Abdullah to read the statement by a London-based leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The late President Hafez al-Assad made membership of the Muslim Brotherhood a capital offence in 1980 after crushing a revolt by Islamist militants against his Baathist rule.

His son and successor President Bashar al-Assad has released hundreds of political prisoners, including some members of the Muslim Brotherhood, since assuming power in 2000.

Activists have said Raadoun's arrest earlier this month was believed to be linked to statements about the arrest of returning Islamist dissidents.

Syria told its embassies in March to facilitate the return of exiles, in what campaigners saw as a de facto amnesty for dissidents who had fled the country.

Rights activists say hundreds of Syrians living abroad for political reasons have taken advantage of the opportunity, but a few have come back only to find themselves behind bars.