Appealing for the release of Mazen Darwish ahead of terrorism verdict

Thursday, March 19, 2015
His Excellency Bashar al-Assad President of the Syrian Arab Republic Presidential Palace al-Rashid Street Damascus Syrian Arab Republic Your Excellency, I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world. CJFE adds its voice to the International Press Institute (IPI) and the undersigned members of IFEX, the global network for free expression, in appealing to you for the release of Mazen Darwish. Darwish is the founding president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and a tireless advocate of media freedom and journalists’ rights in Syria. It is our understanding that on 25 March 2015, the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus will render a verdict in Mr. Darwish's case. The international attention that will be focused on Mr. Darwish's case on this date presents your government with an ideal opportunity to release him and, thereby, demonstrate to the international community a renewed commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and the press. As you know, Mr. Darwish has been held since February 2012, and was held without charges until March 2014. At that time, he was charged with “publicising terrorist acts” under Art. 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. Unfortunately, Mr. Darwish did not benefit from the June 2014 amnesty announced by your government, despite the fact that the amnesty decree expressly applied to Art. 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. We urge you now to ensure that the terms of the amnesty decree are fully and fairly upheld, in particular with respect to Mr. Darwish's case. According to our information, the charges against Mr. Darwish relate to his work with the SCM. Under Mr. Darwish's direction, the SCM regularly reported on free speech violations and journalists' working conditions, collected and publicised the disappearances of bloggers and media figures, and advocated for legal reform. International human rights standards require states to ensure that anti-terrorism legislation, in both text and practice, does not result in unjustifiable or disproportionate interference in freedom of expression. The special representatives on freedom of expression of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights have declared that “the criminalisation of speech relating to terrorism should be restricted to instances of intentional incitement to terrorism” and affirmed that the vital role of journalists in providing information to the public must be respected in laws against terrorism and extremism. We also urge you to free two of Mr. Darwish's colleagues at SCM, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zaitani, who have likewise been held since Feb. 2012. The terms of the amnesty decree should also be applied to two further SCM staff members, Mansour Omari and Abd al-Rahman Hamada. Mazen Darwish is an internationally respected journalist and human rights defender. Last month, IPI named him as its 2015 World Press Freedom Hero. Your government would send an extraordinary signal by releasing Mr. Darwish and allowing him the opportunity to accept his much-deserved award in person on 28 March at IPI's World Congress in Myanmar, before an audience of leading publishers, editors, and journalists from around the globe. Your Excellency, please take this opportunity to free Mr. Darwish and his colleagues. Thank you for your attention to this most important matter. Yours sincerely, Arnold Amber, CJFE President Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech Albanian Media Institute Arabic Network for Human Rights Information Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression Bahrain Center for Human Rights Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia Committee to Protect Journalists Electronic Frontier Foundation Foro de Periodismo Argentino Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP Globe International Center Index on Censorship Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey International Federation of Journalists International Press Institute Media Foundation for West Africa Media Rights Agenda Pakistan Press Foundation Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA PEN Canada PEN International World Press Freedom Committee Cc: His Excellency Dr. Bashar Ja’afari, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations

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