CJFE calls for release of journalist dying in prison in Syria

Thursday, November 25, 1999

His Excellency President Hafez al-Assad
Presidential Palace
Damascus, Syria
Fax: +963 11 222 3428

25 November 1999

Your Excellency,

On behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), I am writing to express my grave concern over the continued imprisonment of journalist Nizar Nayyouf, whose life is seriously in danger, and to beg for his immediate release.

Journalists and opposition figures in Syria remain detained for inordinately long periods of time, creating the impression worldwide that your government does not subscribe to the democratic ideal of free expression.

Nizar Nayyouf, Editor in Chief of the monthly "Sawt al-Democratiyya" and Secretary-General of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedom in Syria, was arrested on 10 January 1992 and sentenced two months later to ten years of forced labour for being a member of an "unauthorized" organization and for disseminating "false" information. He has now served seven years of this sentence.

He is currently confined to a solitary little cell in the military prison of Mezze in Damascus. He cannot walk, as his lower limbs are paralysed and his vertebrae are fractured due to the repeated torture allegedly inflicted on him by prison authorities. His sight is failing, following a fracture to the back of his head, and his stomach is haemorrhaging as he is forced to eat contaminated food. He has other ailments resulting from his imprisonment and we fear he is in danger of dying.

In particular, Mr. Nayyouf has for over a year now been suffering from lymphatic cancer, which requires chemotherapy in its early stages. I have heard that prison authorities have refused to administer medical treatment unless he pledges to refrain from political activity and signs a statement acknowledging that "he made false declarations concerning the situation of human rights in Syria." He refuses to do so.

Syria is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which not only bans torture but also states clearly that: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." The seven years of imprisonment and torture of Nizar Nayyouf are incompatible with this Covenant.

I respectfully call on your government to demonstrate its strength and compassion by releasing Nizar Nayyouf and enabling him to receive the medical treatment he so urgently requires. I am calling upon my own government in Canada to take steps to help this journalist, who has been punished for trying to make his country a better place.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Kristina Stockwood

cc: Hon. Lloyd Axworthy
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs
Fax: +613 996 3443

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