Journalists and Bloggers Arrested; Fears for Safety
PEN International fears for the safety of leading journalist Mazen Darwich, who was arrested on February 17, 2012, along with 13 fellow press freedom activists and bloggers from the Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Darwich and six bloggers in the group remain detained incommunicado at an unknown location, and are considered to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. PEN considers Mazen Darwich and bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani, and Abdelrahman Hamadah to be targeted solely for the peaceful exercise 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 calls for their immediate and unconditional release. It urgently seeks information about their whereabouts, any charges against them, and guarantees of their safety in detention.
According to PEN’s information, Mazin Darwich and 13 of his colleagues were arrested when security forces raided the offices of the Damascus-based Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), of which he is the director. Those arrested with him include his wife and blogger Yara Badr (f), and bloggers Razan Ghazzawi (f), Hanadi Zahlout (f), Sana Z’itani (f), Rita Dayoub (f), Maha Al-Assablani (f), Mayada Al-Khalil (f), Hussein Greir, Hani Z’itani, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, and Abdelrahman Hamadah. On February 19, 2012, all the female detainees in the group were released under the condition that they report to the Air Force's secret services the following day. Details remain unclear about their current status but they are thought to remain under heavy restriction. Bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani, and Abdelrahman Hamadah remain detained. Concerns for their welfare are mounting.
Darwich was previously briefly detained and interrogated for his peaceful opposition activities and reporting in March 2011. His center, which is the only independent non-governmental organization in Syria that monitors the media and the internet, has been closed by the authorities twice, in 2005 and 2009.
Anti-government protests were sparked in mid-March 2011 and have since spread across the country. Mass arrests have been taking place and security officers have responded to the continuing protests with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators, and bombarding opposition stronghold areas with mortar bombs and rockets. Thousands of civilians have been killed and many more wounded. Protestors continue to demand political reform and to call upon President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Syrian authorities continue to suppress these protests with force, often indiscriminately, despite promises to end the violence.
With the internet and media already severely curtailed in recent years, the Syrian authorities have imposed even greater restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in reaction to recent events. Most foreign reporters and correspondents have been asked to leave the country and access to any independent media is denied.
Write A Letter
- Expressing grave concern for the well-being and whereabouts of journalist and activist Mazen Darwich, bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani, and Abdelrahman Hamadah;
- Expressing concerns for the safety of the detainees, and seeking assurances that they are not being tortured or ill-treated in detention in violation of Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a state party.
Send Your Letter To
Given the present crisis in Syria, we suggest that letters are sent to the Syrian embassies in your country where they exist. Also, please distribute this alert as widely as possible in your media and among other interested groups.