May 11, 2011

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

Major Sa’id Mohamed Samour
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
‘Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar Street
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 express our grave concern regarding the arrest and detention of journalists Dorothy Parvaz, Mahmoud Issa, Khaled Sid Mohand, Zaid Mastu, and Mohamed Dibo.

According to our information, Syrian authorities have responded to recent nationwide protests with violent suppression. Security officers have reportedly used excessive force, including tear gas and live bullets, to disperse demonstrators. Scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and many more wounded, including several journalists, bloggers, writers, and activists. Dorothy Parvaz, a correspondent for who holds American, Canadian and Iranian citizenship, was arrested on April 29, and has since been sent to Iran. Mahmoud Issa, a journalist and writer, was arrested on April 19. Khaled Sid Mohand, freelance journalist for a number of news outlets including Le Monde, Zaid Mastu, correspondent for, and journalist and writer Mohamed Dibo, were arrested on April 12. All are held incommunicado and are considered to be at risk of torture and ill-treatment. There are mounting concerns for their safety.

We understand that with the Internet and media already severely curtailed in Syria in recent years, authorities have imposed even greater restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in reaction to recent events. Foreign reporters and correspondents have been asked to leave the country and access to any independent media is denied.
PEN American Center condemns the recent use of excessive force to suppress peaceful dissent and the widespread arrests of journalists and bloggers for reporting on the recent protests, including Dorothy Parvaz, Mahmoud Issa, Khaled Sid Mohand, Zaid Mastu, and Mohamed Dibo, in clear violation of their right to freedom of expression. We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Syria for the peaceful expression of their views in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory, and urgently seek guarantees of their safety while in detention. We also urge authorities to end the climate of censorship of independent media and to allow foreign journalists to return to Syria in order to permit the free flow of information across frontiers.

Thank you for your consideration of 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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