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Syrian authorities must drop charges against three human rights defenders and release all prisoners of conscience

Friday 14 August 2015 - 1:00am

Five staff of an NGO, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, including its director, Mazen Darwish, are still detained in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance, despite orders for Mazen Darwish to be brought before a military court.  Mazen Darwish was arrested along with a group of 13 staff members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression as well as two visitors who were in the office on 16 February when it was raided by uniformed men believed to be members of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence. Eleven members of the group have since been released, eight of them on bail to await trial before a military court.  Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir, Hani al-Zitani, Mansour al-Omari and Abd al-Rahman Hamada are detained incommunicado at an unknown location. The authorities have ignored their families and lawyers' repeated requests for information about them. Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association in the CMFE. According to recently released detainees, Mazen Darwish and Hussein Gharir are being held at an Air Force Intelligence branch in Damascus, while Hani al-Zitani, Mansour al-Omari and Abd al-Rahman Hamada are believed to be held in the town of al-Mo?damiyah, just outside Damascus. Three men who were detained at the same base from 19 March until 22 April have said that they and the three SCM staff members were tortured and beaten there.

14 August 2015

PEN International joins SCM and organisations from across the globe in calling for all charges against Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir to be dropped immediately.

Fourteen international organisations have joined the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in welcoming the release of its president Mazen Darwish and in calling for all charges against him and his colleagues to be dropped, as well as for the release of all other prisoners of conscience who remain detained by the Syrian authorities.

Whilst welcoming this week’s release of Mazen Darwish and of his SCM colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir last month we are extremely concerned that they continue to face charges of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ and are due to face trial later this month. We continue to call for all charges against them to be dropped immediately and unconditionally, and for an end to the persecution and judicial harassment of the three men for their legitimate human rights work. The authorities in Syria must further guarantee that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

The organisations also continue to protest the arbitrary detention of many other peaceful activists and others held by the authorities as a result of the legitimate exercise of their human rights, such as the cases currently documented through the Free Syria’s Silenced Voices campaign.

Activists who have been targeted by the Syrian authorities include prominent human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq, who is believed to have been arrested in October 2012 by the Syrian authorities and was later seen in various government-operated security branches. Similarly, Aleppo-based doctor Mohamed Bachir Arab has been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian authorities since November 2011, likely because he participated in peaceful demonstrations. Citizen journalist Ali Mahmoud Othman, who worked with international journalists in Homs, remains missing after his arrest by Syrian authorities in 2012.

Activists have also been targeted by non-state armed groups. Among others, Razan Zaitouna and her colleagues Samira Al-Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada from the Center for Documenting Human Rights Violations in Douma remain missing following their abduction on 9 December 2013.

The Syrian authorities must comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law, and release all persons detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association or solely for treating the sick and wounded or providing humanitarian assistance. Non-state armed groups, including the Army of Islam and other armed groups operating in Douma and elsewhere in the country, must stop their practice of abducting human rights defenders and release those detained.


Amnesty International
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists
English PEN
Frontline Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
International Media Support (IMS)
International Press Institute (IPI)
PEN American Center
PEN International
Reporters sans frontières/Reporters without Borders
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)


Syria: Mazen Darwish released