PEN International joins English PEN in calling for the immediate release of PEN Pinter Prize winner Mazen Darwish and his colleagues ahead of their hearing on 15 April.
Arrested in February 2012, Mazen Darwish, the founding president of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expresssion (SCM), and his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir were held without trial for over two years. In March 2014 they were finally charged with ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Article 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law.
More than a year later, they have yet to be tried on these charges. Their hearings have been subjected to repeated delays, most recently on 25 March. We were therefore relieved to learn from Yara Bader, the current director of the SCM and Mazen’s wife, that their next hearing has now been scheduled to take place on 15 April.
According to a statement issued by the SCM, Mazen Darwish is scheduled to be transferred from Hama Prison where he is currently being held to Homs Central Prison in Damascus on 11 April, before appearing in court on 15 April ‘for the eighth time’. Hani Al-Zitani has also been informed that he will be transferred from Suwayda Central Prison to Damascus.
We urge the authorities to ensure that next week’s hearing goes ahead as planned, and continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir.
Meanwhile, we welcome the fact that Mazen Darwish’s courage and commitment to freedom of expression continue to be widely recognised. In March 2015, Yara Bader travelled to Myanmar to collect the IPI World Press Freedom Hero Award on Mazen’s behalf. He has since been announced as the winner of the prestigious2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.