PEN International fears for the safety of playwright and actor Zaki Cordillo, who has been held since August 13, 2012, in Damascus. Cordillo remains detained incommunicado at an unknown location, and is considered to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. PEN considers Zaki Cordillo to be targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his 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 his immediate and unconditional release. It urgently seeks information about his whereabouts, any charges against him and guarantees of his safety in detention.

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Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Zaki Cordillo was arrested in Damascus on August 13, 2012, along with his son Mihyar, an actor. He is believed to be targeted for his writings about the events currently taking place in Syria. Cordillo is a playwright and a leading figure of Puppet Theatre (known in Arabic as Masrah Azil).

Cordillo has written more than eight plays including Shade and Light, Captain Caracoz, and Alma’ar, and has directed and acted in his works. He has also written dramas for children such as Watery Dreams, The Active Girl, and The Kingdom of Ants.

Since the start of the conflict, dozens of writers, poets and playwrights have been arrested for peacefully expressing their views about  current events in Syria. They include Syrian Palestinian political analyst and blogger Ali Al-Shihabi, arrested by Syrian secret services on December 15, 2012. His whereabouts are still unknown. Al-Shihabi is a leading writer and has published several books including The World New Structure and Syria, Where to?. He previously spent nine years in prison for his peaceful opposition activities.

Anti-government protests were sparked in mid-March 2011 and have since spread across the country. There have been mass arrests 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 playwright Zaki Cordillo and writer Ali al-Shihabi;
  • Expressing concerns for their safety, 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 (ICCPR);
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of playwright Zaki Cordillo, writer Ali al-Shihabi, and all those currently detained in Syria in violation of Article 19 the ICCPR, to which Syria is a state party.

Send Your Letter To

Given the present crisis in Syria, we suggest that letters be sent to the Syrian embassy in your country.