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Journalists, bloggers arrested and beaten as information war continues

(RSF/IFEX) - 17 August 2011 - Reporters Without Borders continues to register cases of violence and arbitrary arrests in which the victims are anyone trying to provide information about what is happening in Syria. It also condemns journalist Eyad Shorbaji's trial, which is due to begin today in Damascus. The reason for his arrest and the charges are still unknown.

"We fear that Bashar Al-Assad's regime is locked into a repressive frenzy that has reached a point of no return," Reporters Without Borders said. "Isolated internationally, especially since the withdrawal of many Arab ambassadors and the increase in international community pressure, the authorities persist in censoring any discourse different from their own, jailing netizens and journalists who have witnessed violence against protesters."

"We would still like to convince the authorities that truth cannot be suppressed and that the policies they have chosen will only lead down a blind alley. Respect for free expression and media freedom is the only possible way forward."

In one of the latest cases, members of the security forces attacked London-based journalist Moussa Al-Omar's family home in Damascus on 11 August. Omar has interviewed various Syrian opposition figures for the programme he hosts for UK-based Al-Hiwar TV. The attack is typical of the intimidatory methods that Syria's diplomats and security services use with government opponents living abroad.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned that Myriam Haddad, a woman reporter for the magazine Mouqarabat, was kidnapped from Havana Café, in the centre of the capital, on 11 August. Intelligence officials arrested the journalist Sami Al-Halabi on 11 August in the southern city of Suwayda after giving him a severe beating. And Jehad Jamal, a blogger also known by the pen-name of Milan who has had several spells in prison, was jailed again for unknown reasons on 4 August.

Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about four journalists who were abducted by security agents on the morning of 4 August from a café in the southern Damascus suburb of Jaramana. They are Ebaa Monzer, a business reporter for the newspaper Baladna, Omar Al-Assad, who works for Al-Jazeera and the newspapers As-Safir and Al-Hayat and who was already arrested at the start of the protests, and bloggers Rudy Othman and Asim Hamsho.

Monzer, a woman, may have been released but Reporters Without Borders has had no news of the other three except that Hamsho was reportedly tortured at intelligence headquarters in the northern district of Maysat after his arrest. There is also still no news of Hanadi Zahlout, a freelance journalist who has been missing since 25 July.

Reporters Without Borders notes that Omar Koush, a writer and journalist who had been held since 2 May, was finally released on 6 August. But seven other journalists and bloggers are still detained, in addition to those named above.

With authorities cracking down so hard on journalists, new technologies offer the only way of providing an alternative to the regime's propaganda. But netizens are also a priority target for the intelligence services.

Abd Qabani, for example, was arrested in the capital on 8 August, and Ahmed Samir Naji went missing as he was driving to work the same day. The blogger and activist Fadi Zeidan was arrested for covering a demonstration in the central Damascus district of Sha'laan on 4 August and was held for two days.

The netizen Ammar Sa'ib was arrested in Qasaa, a district east of the capital, on 1 August in still unknown circumstances.

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