Syria: Free Prominent Rights Defenders!

October 3, 2014

UPDATE: For the third time in a row, the Terrorism Court in Damascus delayed the verdict in the case of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of expression, which was scheduled for October 1, to November 5, 2014. The rights advocate and journalist Mazen Darwish, Director of the Center, and his colleagues, the university professor  Hani Zitani and the blogger Hussein Ghreir, will soon complete two years in Adra prison after they had been spent 9 months of compulsory disappearance. They were arrested on February 16, 2012 by the air-force intelligence agency, a period during which they were subject to torture, humiliation, harsh treatment, and deprivation from their basic civil rights. 
Hivos reiterates its demand that the concerned authorities release, immediately and without conditions, Mazen Darwish and his colleagues, in accordance with its international commitments towards the UN and the relevant international legal organizations which work on defending human rights and freedom of expression, as well as in accordance with the Syrian constitution, which guarantees the freedom of belief and expression, in addition to the current impasse of the Syrian situation, particularly after the public space had been emptied from the peaceful, civil, wise activists.

Statement first published on Septmeber 4, 2014: Verdict scheduled in charges before Anti-Terrorism Court

Together with a large coalition of almost 80 human rights organisations, Hivos calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Mazen Darwish and his colleagues, as well as of all activists arbitrarily held solely for peaceful political activism and human rights, humanitarian and media work. The Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court is expected to issue its verdict on September 24, 2014 in their trial for “publicising terrorist acts.” (See full statement in the documents box on the right)

Darwish is the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested the three men and other colleagues during a raid on the group’s office, in Damascus on February 16, 2012. The three men have been on trial before the Anti-Terrorism Court on charges of “publicising terrorist acts” under article 8 of the country’s 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. The charges are based on their peaceful activities that include monitoring and publishing information about human rights abuses in Syria.

A May 15, 2013 UN General Assembly resolution included a demand for the immediate release of the three men. On January 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that the three had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty due to their human rights activities and called for their immediate release. The United Nations Security Council demanded the release of all arbitrarily detained people in Syria in its resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014.

On June 9, the government announced an amnesty, including for the charges that Darwish and the others face. They have not been freed, however.

Hivos has a partnership with the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) since the middle of 2010. For a decade, Mazen Darwish and his colleagues have courageously promoted human rights and fundamental freedoms in Syria – an authoritarian state with a highly repressive regime.

Since they started their work in 2004, Mazen Darwish and his colleagues have been arrested and detained several times, facing both physical harassment and administrative restrictions, including travel bans and the systematic rejection of SCM’s official registration in Syria. SCM managed to continue its work, despite being shut down by Syrian authorities on three occasions.