Celebrating the release of Mazen Darwish

Monday, August 10, 2015
Lucie Morillon, head of research at RSF holds a banner depicting imprisoned Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest in Paris on October 20, 2012. PHOTO: AP/Francois Mori
CJFE celebrates the release of Syrian journalist and human rights defender Mazen Darwish, after three and a half years of arbitrary detention. Darwish was first arrested in February 2012, along with his colleagues at the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM) Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani; Gharir and Al-Zitani were freed on July 17 and 18, 2015, respectively. In a statement, Darwish’s wife Yader Bader confirmed her husband’s release and said that he is “extremely happy, but also tired.” While CJFE is encouraged by Darwish’s release, the fact that he and his colleagues continue to face spurious terrorism charges in retribution for their legitimate, peaceful defense of human rights is a travesty of justice. Darwish is due to appear in an anti-terrorism court for the final verdict in his case on August 31, however the verdict has already been repeatedly delayed. Gharir and Al-Zitani were scheduled to hear their verdicts on July 22 but it was postponed, for the twenty-sixth time since February 2013, to August 31. Darwish’s release follows years of campaigning from human rights organizations around the world for his freedom and that of his SCM colleagues. He was awarded the 2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in May for his tireless work in defence of free expression in Syria. Prior to his 2012 arrest, Darwish had been repeatedly targeted by the Syrian government for his reporting and activism—his passport was revoked in 2007 and he spent 10 days in prison after reporting on riots in the suburbs of Damascus in 2008. In the lead-up to his most recent detention he had been a significant source for international news organizations reporting on the Syrian civil war. His arrest appeared to be part of a broader attempt by government authorities to limit the flow of information about the conflict and human rights violations. Many other journalists, human rights defenders and activists have been imprisoned by the Syrian government for the same reason, subsequently charged with baseless terrorism offences and referred to anti-terrorism courts which observers say violate defendants’ right to due process and fair trial. Like other prisoners of conscience in Syria, Darwish and his colleagues were reportedly subjected to torture, ill-treatment and “conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.” While CJFE celebrates the fact that all three are finally free and reunited with their family and loved ones, Syrian authorities must cease in their legal harassment of Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani, and drop all charges against the three human rights defenders. CJFE also urges the country’s government to unconditionally and permanently release all political prisoners in Syria.

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