On 24 March 2014, Director of Hivos partner the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Mazen Darwish, and his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer, were charged by the General Prosecutor at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus with “promoting terrorist acts” pursuant to Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2012.
The Syrian journalist and human rights activist Mazen Darwish, president and founder of SCM, won the Bruno Kreisky Prize For Services To Human Rights in 2013. In defiance of the repressive Syrian authorities, Darwish was one of the main sources of reliable and impartial information about rights violations against journalists.
The charges were presented to Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer, despite the fact that no evidence was put forward by the Prosecution in Court. The Prosecution asked for the maximum penalty of 15 years in prison with hard labour to be imposed on the human rights defenders. The Defence drew the Court’s attention to the lack of evidence and argued that the Court, sitting as an Anti-Terrorism Court, did not have jurisdiction to hear the case against three civilians.
The matter was adjourned to 18 June 2014 when the question of jurisdiction will be dealt with. The charges come more than two years after the men were arrested on 16 February 2012, during a raid on the offices of the SCM in Damascus by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence. The case has been adjourned on seven previous occasions primarily at the request of the Prosecution due to its failure to gather evidence against the three men. During this time the men have been held without charge and have been reportedly subjected to torture and continued ill-treatment, although these allegations remain without investigation.
Mazen Darwish and his SCM colleagues have always peacefully promoted human rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression. For this reason, Hivos is convinced that the charges against them are politically motivated, brought solely because of their dedicated work as human rights defenders. Hivos is also concerned that the procedures of their court cases do not comply with international standards of fair trial.
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