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Independent journalist sentenced to prison for defamation

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned a 10-day prison sentence handed down on 23 June 2008 to independent journalist Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.

He was sentenced under Article 387 of the criminal code for "defamation and insulting state administrative bodies". The verdict will appear on his record for a period of three to seven years, during which he will be banned from renewing his identity papers, including his passport. Darwish is expected to appeal.

The Damascus military tribunal finally ordered that he serve just two days in prison, taking into account his clean record and the fact he was held in custody for three days after his arrest, while covering riots in one of the capital's suburbs, Adra, in January.

The court ordered the restitution of his laptop computer, which had been seized by police. However his working notes and photos remain permanently confiscated.

The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, a partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders, voiced its concern about the sentence. "The Syrian government allows itself to punish journalists even before they publish their work," it said in a press statement released after the conclusion of the trial.

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