Syrian government must release Mazen Darwish and colleagues

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

His Excellency Dr. Bashar Ja’afari
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations
The Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations
820 Second Avenue, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10017


Dear Ambassador,

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 Gulf Centre for Human Rights and 77 other organizations in calling for the release of arbitrarily detained human rights defender Mazen Darwish and his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer. The Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court is expected to issue its verdict on September 24, 2014 in their trial for “publicizing terrorist acts.”

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 “publicizing 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.

“The trial against Mazen Darwish and his colleagues is nothing more than a sham, and a deep miscarriage of justice,” a spokesperson for the organizations said. “These human rights advocates should be immediately set free.”

The judge has postponed the trial several times because security forces have failed to provide the information requested by the court. Nevertheless, the groups understand from a source who is closely monitoring the court proceedings that the judge is expected to issue a verdict in the trial when it resumes in September.

Former detainees who had been held with the men said that security forces subjected Mazen Darwish and his colleagues to torture and other ill-treatment. Despite these credible reports, there has been no investigation into the abuses.

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.

According to lawyer working with political detainees who has been monitoring the implementation of the amnesty, in the case of some detainees who should benefit from the amnesty, judges have sent the files back to the public prosecutor with a request to change the charges against them to charges that are not covered by the amnesty.

The Anti-Terrorism Court judge overseeing the trial of the three men should comply with the amnesty and refrain from sending their case back to the prosecutor for new charges, the organizations said. The three should be released immediately, as called for by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“The families of SCM members hoped that their relatives would be released under the amnesty,” the spokesperson said. “But the Syrian authorities have once again proven that they are not capable of abiding by even their own publicly proclaimed amnesty. Every day behind bars for peaceful activists, who should never have been jailed in the first place, is another day of injustice for them and their families.”

The 79 undersigned organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mazen Darwish and his colleagues, as well as all other activists arbitrarily held solely for peaceful political activism and human rights, humanitarian and media work.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights
Al-Sham Center for Democratic Studies and Human Rights – Syria
AMAN NETWORK for Rehabilitation and Defending Human Rights
Amnesty International
Arab-European Center of Human Rights and International Law (AECHRIL)
Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring (AWG-MM)
ARTICLE 19
Assyrian Human Rights Network
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Cairo Center for Development and Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence - Egypt
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
Forum of Cooperation for Human Development" in France
Free Press Unlimited
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Gulf Forum for Civil Society Organizations
Humanistic Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS)
Human Rights First Society - Saudi Arabia
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Independent Commission for Human Rights in Kurdistan - Iraq
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
International Centre for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR) - Geneva
International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF)
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
International Federation for Human Rights – in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH)
International Media Support (IMS)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defence Association (IJRDA)
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
Justice for Iran (JFI)
Kurdish Organization for Human Rights in Syria (DAD)
Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L)
Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH)
Lualua Center for Human Rights (LCHR)
Madad Foundation for Human Rights
Madani Organisation
Maharat Foundation
Menapolis (Menapolis.net)
Palestinian League for Human Rights - Syria
PAX
PEN International
Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
Regional Free Council to Support Human Rights
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Samir Kassir Foundation
Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA)
Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (Yemen)
Sudanese Development Initiative (SUDIA)
Syrian Center for Human Rights
Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Syrian Civil Coalition
Syrian Committee for Human Rights
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
Syrian Organization for Human Rights (SAWASIA)
Syrian Women's Network
Together For Human Rights
Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Vivarta - London
Violations Documentation Center (VDC)
Women's Studies Centre - Palestine
World Organisation Against Torture – in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedom
Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms / Aden - Yemen
Zarga Organization for Rural Development

Cc: Mr. Guillermo E. Rishchynski, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs