June 9, 2011

His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad
Presidential Palace
Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: + 963 11 332 3410

His Excellency Said Sammour
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: + 963 11 222 3428

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to welcome the release of at least five writers from detention; however, we renew our extreme concern regarding the safety of other journalists, bloggers, writers, and activists arrested in the current crackdown on peaceful protesters.

According to our information, on June 2, 2011, a limited presidential amnesty was announced and at least five writers who had been arrested during the recent crackdown were released from detention. These include Mahmoud Issa, a journalist and writer who was arrested on April 19, 2011; Khalid Sid Mohand, a freelance journalist for a number of news outlets including Le Monde who was arrested on April 12; Zaid Mastu, an Al-Arabiya.net correspondent who was arrested on April 12; Mohamed Dibo, a journalist and writer arrested on April 12 and released on May 25; and Dorothy Parvaz, an Aljazeera.net correspondent who was arrested on April 29 and released in mid-May after being deported to Iran. We understand that novelist Raghdah Sa’id Hassan, who had been held without charge since February 10, 2010, was also released on June 2 under the presidential amnesty.

Several writers, however, have not been included in the amnesty and remain at risk of ill-treatment in detention. These include blogger and poet Tal Al-Mallouhi, who was arrested on December 29, 2009, and sentenced to five years in prison on February 14, 2011; and writer and editor Najati Tayra, who was arrested on May 12, 2011, remains detained without charge, and has reportedly been transferred to a detention center in Damascus..

PEN American Center welcomes the presidential amnesty and the releases of several writers; however we are seriously concerned about the continued detention of many other writers and activists held for the peaceful expression of their opinions, including Najati Tayara and Tal Al-Mallouhi. We believe that the widespread arrests of journalists and bloggers for reporting on the recent protests is a clear violation of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory, and are seriously concerned that those who have been arrested face ill-treatment at the hands of authorities. We therefore call for the immediate release of Tayara, Al-Mallouhi, and all others currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and we urge authorities to investigate all allegations of torture.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Imad Moustapha
Embassy of Syria
2215 Wyoming Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 265-4585

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