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Authorities threaten foreign media, continue to arrest local journalists and bloggers

(RSF/IFEX) - 13 March 2012 - The information ministry has threatened Arab and foreign media that are “illegally” in Syria, while Syrian journalists and bloggers continue to be arrested.

In a 9 March communiqué, the information ministry threatened to take measures against Arab and foreign journalists who have entered the country “illegally” and against anyone cooperating with them. The minister accused the foreign media of complicity with the “terrorists” and, by covering their activities” of “justifying their crimes.” He also accused them of “fabricating” reports.

The minister reiterated the view that, if news media allow their reporters to enter Syria illegally, they are morally and legally responsible for what happens to them. This is similar to the position that the government took after the bombardment of the Media Centre in the Homs district of Baba Amr in which Rémi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were killed, Paul Conroy and Edith Bouvier were injured and two other journalists, William Daniels and Javier Espinosa were trapped.

The Syrian authorities have boasted of giving permission to 365 Arab and foreign media to enter the country since the start of the uprising in March 2011. Reporters Without Borders nonetheless receives reports every day of Syrian consulates refusing to issue visas to news media or freelance journalists. And those that receive permission are not necessarily able to work freely and independently, without risking arrest or death.

And while the minister openly threatens foreign reporters, Syrian journalists and bloggers continue to be arrested.

In one of the latest incidents, Othman Matar, the father of the journalist Gheith Matar, was arrested on 8 March.

The 12 young people arrested on the evening of 7 March in the restaurant Niniar, in the Damascus neighbourhood of Bab Sharqi, included Yara Michael Shamas, 20, an information technology specialist who is the daughter of a human rights lawyer active in Facebook, Jehad Jamal, a blogger known by the name of Milan, who had been released on 29 December after two and a half months in detention and Etab Labbad, a 20-year-old journalism student who has worked with various newspapers and websites such as Kassioun and Baladna.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, and eight other people held since the 16 February raid on the centre – Hussein Gharir, Hani Zitani, Joan Fersso, Bassam Al-Ahmed, Mansour Al-Omari, Abdel Rahman Hamada, Ayham Ghazzoul and Shady Yazbek.

Syria is one of the countries on the “Enemies of the Internet” list that Reporters Without Borders released yesterday. The Media Centres created by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria were awarded the 2012 Netizen Prize. Syria is ranked 176th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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Click here to read the full press release

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