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SCM Members, Syria, jailed since February 2012

SCM Members, Syria, jailed since February 2012

Article ID:

17633

Day 12
Country: Syria
Journalist: Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghrer
Media:
Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Jailed since: 16 February 2012

Suggested Tweets:

  • Release  colleagues and all journalists and human rights advocates jailed in   


  • #FreethePress calls for the release of Mazen Darwish of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr
  • #FreethePress calls for the release of Hani Al-Zitani of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr
  • #FreethePress calls for the release of Hussein Ghrer of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr

Mazen Darwish, founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) and two colleagues, Hussain Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani, have been imprisoned for more than two years for promoting freedom of expression and reporting human rights violations committed in Syria. They were among 16 people arrested when the SCM offices were raided on 16 February 2012 by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence (AFI). During the first months they were held without contact with the outside world and reportedly subjected to acts of torture while in detention, which the authorities have refused to investigate. 

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On 24 March 2014, Darwish, Ghrer and Al-Zitani were charged by the General Prosecutor at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus for “promoting terrorist acts” under Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2012. Their defence has continuously protested a lack of evidence against them. Two of their other colleagues at SCM, Mansour Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada, who were conditionally released on 6 February 2013, will also stand trial for the same charges. As they await the next hearing scheduled for 18 June 2014, they face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison with hard labour.

Repeated calls by the international community for their release have so far been unsuccessful. On 14 January 2014, a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found their detention to be “arbitrary” and called for their immediate release. In a statement in June 2013, SCM colleague and former-prisoner Mansour Al Omari stated “while we await the trial that I and other colleagues from the Syria Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression are facing, I know that Mazen and the others with him in secret detention would want me to be strong, and to keep telling the world about what Syrian human rights defenders endure in defence of those rights.”

  • Mazen Darwish is the founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, a journalist and prominent advocate of freedom of expression and the media. Before his current detention, Mazen’s human rights activism was repeatedly reprimanded by Syrian authorities. He was arrested and beaten several times, was banned from travelling outside of the country in 2007, and disbarred from practicing law at the Syrian Bar Association. Arrested during the raid of SCM offices in February 2012, he was detained incommunicado for several months and was subjected to torture, according to former detainees held with him. In November 2012, he was transferred to Adra prison in Damascus, where he awaits his trial.

    Receiving the Bruno Kreisky Award for services to human rights in 2013, Mazen expressed his determination to continue fighting for freedom, dignity and citizenship. In an acceptance letter which he reportedly smuggled out of Adra prison, he lamented: “there is no greater happiness for a prisoner than of the feeling that the outer world is remembering him, but before the devastation and the bloodshed that engulfed my homeland, the feeling of happiness becomes a kind of luxury that I am ashamed to have it.”
  • Hussein Ghrer is a well-known human rights blogger and also one of the members of the SCM arrested during the office’s raid in February 2012. An active voice on public affairs in the Syrian blogosphere, he has taken part in various human rights campaigns, including protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Golan Heights. In July 2012, he started a hunger strike to protest his continued incarceration. Transferred to Adra prison in November 2012, there are fears for Ghrer’s health, as he suffers from hypertensive vascular disease. This is his second arrest: he was previously detained on 24 October 2011 and held incommunicado for a month before being released on bail. 
  • Hani Al-Zaitani is a university teacher and member of SCM. Arrested along with Darwish and Ghrer in February 2012, he was held incommunicado for the first few months of detention and transferred to Adra prison in November 2012.

As violence has engulfed Syria since the uprising in 2011, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression has played a key role in monitoring and disseminating information regarding human rights violations, especially those targeting journalists and the press in Syria. Founded in 2004 as a non-governmental organisation, the SCM was granted “special consultative status” by the UN’s Economic and Social Council in 2011 and has been a member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) since May 2013. Despite being closed down by the authorities in 2009, the Centre has continued to operate its website without authorisation from the government.

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the international community has repeatedly condemned the arbitrary detention and torture of civilians in Syria, as well as kidnappings, abductions and forced disappearances. Human rights activists and journalists have been particularly targeted for their work. The lack of independent media access and violent attacks makes it extremely difficult to document human rights violations in the country. Most foreign media are barred from entering the country and reporting on the conflict. As President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime continues to arrest those who report on the conflict, journalists also risk abductions and attacks from Islamist groups.

According to Reporters Without Borders, at the end of 2013 around 20 Syrian news providers were being held by Assad’s regime, 19 foreign journalists were detained, held hostage or missing, and at least 20 Syrian news providers were being held hostage by Islamist armed groups. In 2012 alone, 28 journalists were killed according to CPJ, making Syria the world’s deadliest country for journalists. Estimates point to around 130 journalists and news providers killed since March 2011. One of the victims included Ayham Ghazzoul, a member of SCM who was also detained during the February 2012 office raid and later released, only to die in prison on 9 November 2012 from injuries sustained during an attack by pro-Assad students at Damascus University.

Suggested Tweets:

Release  colleagues and all journalists and human rights advocates jailed in   

#FreethePress calls for the release of Mazen Darwish of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr

#FreethePress calls for the release of Hani Al-Zitani of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr

#FreethePress calls for the release of Hussein Ghrer of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression bit.ly/Rl28mr


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wm_WanIfra

Date

2014-04-15 09:40

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Andrew Heslop

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2014-04-03 20:08