Sign up for weekly updates

Eighteen IFEX members sign appeal urging Syria to stop terrorising journalist's family

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a joint action signed by eighteen IFEX members, urging the Syrian government to do everything in its power to end the harassment of the Nayyouf family and to ensure that the charges against Nizar Nayyouf are immediately dropped:

Joint Appeal to Syria to Stop Terrorising Journalist's Family

According to the information we have received, two of journalist Nizar Nayyouf's brothers, Amjad and Mamdouh Nayyouf, who worked as teachers, were dismissed from their positions after refusing to condemn their brother's critical statements about the Syrian government. We understand that the decision to dismiss Amjad emanated from Prime Minister Mustafa Meerow's office. Another brother, Hayyan Nayyouf, a student at Tishreen University in Lattakia, was threatened by university officials, who told him that he would not be allowed to graduate unless he publicly stated that his brother's statements were lies.

In a further development, all three brothers were given an ultimatum by the authorities to either outrightly condemn Nizar Nayyouf's statements by 22 November 2001 or face retaliatory exile from their home cities or even from Syria. In addition, land belonging to their parents, Ali and Douha Nayyouf, has now been confiscated by the authorities.

As a member of the banned Independent Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria and editor-in-chief of its monthly newsletter, Sawt-al-Democratiyya ("Democracy's Voice"), Nizar Nayyouf was arrested on 10 January 1992. Following his arrest, he was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for disseminating false information and belonging to an unauthorised organisation. Nayyouf had reported on human rights violations during the 1991 elections in Syria. After nine years in prison, he was released on 6 May 2001 during the Pope's visit to Syria. He was arrested again for two days on 21 June and then finally allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment.

The harassment of Nizar Nayyouf's family comes at a time when the journalist is in France for medical treatment necessitated by his many years in prison. While in jail, Nayyouf was tortured and beaten so severely that he was partially paralysed and nearly blinded. Only now, after receiving proper medical treatment abroad, has his physical condition improved.

On 3 September, while still receiving medical treatment in France, Nayyouf was charged in absentia with "trying to change the constitution by illegal means and issuing false reports from a foreign country". If convicted he may face five more years in jail.

We look upon these most recent charges, in conjunction with the harassment of Nizar Nayyouf?s family, as a gross violation of everyone's right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to being one of IPI's "50 World Press Freedom Heroes", Nizar Nayyouf was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize from Reporters sans frontières (RSF) and the 2000 laureate of both the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award and the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

Following what seemed like a promising start to this year, which included the introduction of your country's first independent newspapers in almost 40 years, the most recent events point towards a renewed deterioration of Syrian press freedom. Not only does the recent action of Syrian authorities represent a further blow to press freedom, it leads us to doubt whether Syria respects the rule of law and human rights.

We, the undersigned, therefore urge the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, Prime Minister Mustafa Meerow, and members of the governing party, Al-Ba'ath, to do everything in their power to end the harassment of the Nayyouf family and to ensure that the charges against Nizar Nayyouf are immediately dropped.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Freedom House
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Index On Censorship
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Journalists' Trade Union (JuHI)
Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN
Reporters sans frontières (RSF)
Thai Journalists Association (TJA)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

International Press Institute