Monday, 23 April 2012

Syrian Press Freedom Advocates Charged in Damascus

Conditions of Founder Mazen Darwish Unknown 

By: Nisha Thanki, IPI Staff

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Talbiseh, near Homs April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout

VIENNA, April 23, 2012 – Eight members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), arrested in February, began trial under the military penal code in Damascus this weekend, according to exiled SCM activist Massoud Akko. The condition of the remaining five members remains unknown.
IPI Acting Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “We call on the authorities to immediately release Mazen Darwish and his colleagues. Their detention appears to be directly linked to their efforts to promote independent reporting in Syria.”

On 16 February, the founder and head of the SCM, Mazen Darwish, was arrested along with fifteen others who were in the office’s Damascus headquarters that day.  The women among the detainees were released on condition that they report to Air Force Intelligence each morning, while Darwish and his male colleagues have been held incommunicado since that time and denied access to their families or legal counsel, according to the SCM.  

Yesterday, five of the women and three of the men appeared in front of a court in Damascus, where they were charged under Article 148 of the Military Penal Code for “having an illegal recording with a view to distribute banned publications,” and with “having illegal recordings with a view to incite demonstrations”.  Those charged included Yara Bader, Hanadi Zahloot, Razan Ghazzawi, Mayadah Khaleel, Thanaa Zetani, along with Joan Farso, Ayham Ghazzol and Bassam Al-Alhmad. They were later taken to Adra Prison, Akko said.

There is still no information on the condition of Hussein Ghrer, Abd Rahman Al Hamada, Hani Zateni, Mansour Al Omarie and Mazen Darwish, the founder of the Syrian Centre of Media and Freedom of Expression, according to Akko.  It is feared that Darwish may be subjected to torture, according to reports from human rights groups.

IPI joined 32 NGOs to call for the physical safety and immediate release of the Syrian detainees. IPI has continued its calls for justice, reiterating that Syrian authorities are responsible and accountable under international law for guaranteeing the physical and mental integrity of all detainees, including Mazen Darwish and his colleagues.

Today, IPI again joined press freedom and human rights organizations around the world in condemning the ongoing detentions and calling for the human rights defenders’ release.