Following release of colleagues, Mazen Darwish must be freed

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
CJFE is encouraged by the recent release of Syrian human rights defenders Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani from prison in Syria on 17 and 18 July respectively. However, Mazen Darwish, their colleague at the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM), remains in prison and must be immediately and unconditionally released. CJFE, as well as many human rights organizations around the world, have made repeated pleas for his freedom. The United Nations General Assembly and the European Parliament have also passed motions calling for the release of all three activists. Darwish, who was a founder and director of the SCM, was awarded the 2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his advocacy of free expression issues. While his name was reportedly on a list of detainees from Hama prison to be granted amnesty, he was instead moved to the State Security Department in Damascus following a security check. Gharir, Al-Zitani and Darwish were arrested in February 2012 after the SCM offices were subject to a raid by the Syrian Air force Intelligence. The three men were held for one year in security branches, where they suffered ill treatment and torture. They were then transferred to Adra Central prison. Gharir, Al-Zitani and Darwish were held without charge until February 2013, when they were spuriously charged with “publicising terror acts” by the Anti-Terrorism Court. Despite the fact that Gharir and Al-Zitani have been freed, they are still being prosecuted under Article 8 of Syria’s Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012, and are scheduled to appear in court on July 22. These charges are in retribution for the activists’ legitimate human rights work and as such clearly violate their right to free expression and must be dropped. Mazen Darwish and his colleagues are only three of a number of journalists and human rights defenders that have been imprisoned by the Syrian government. While it is encouraging that Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani have finally been freed, all charges against them must be dropped. CJFE also urges authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish and all other prisoners of conscience in the country.

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