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Citizen journalist died under torture in Syria

(RSF/IFEX) - 1 February 2013 - Reporters Without Borders is deeply saddened to have just learned that Ayham Mostafa Ghazzoul, a contributor to the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), died under torture four days after being arrested on 5 November 2012.

“We strongly condemn Ghazzoul's murder and our thoughts go out to his family and friends as well as to his SCM colleagues who are still detained,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We call for an investigation by the international peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and for the release of all prisoners of conscience currently held in Syrian jails.”

Ghazzoul was first arrested during the 16 February 2012 raid on the SCM in which all of its employees and contributors, including its director, Mazen Darwish, were arrested because of its key role in documenting the Assad regime's atrocities and human rights abuses since the start of the uprising.

Air force intelligence held Ghazzoul for 67 days before transferring him to Adra prison, where he spent another 21 days. He was finally tried by court martial along with six other SCM contributors for “possession of illegal documents published with the aim of overthrowing the regime” and was freed after being sentenced to the equivalent of the time already spent in detention.

Dentist and student in master degree, he was arrested again on 5 November at the office on the National Union of Students on the University of Damascus campus and was again taken to air force intelligence headquarters.

Born in 1987, he was from the Damascus suburb of Deir 'Atiyeh.

Read the SCM communiqué

Ghazzoul's death's brings to 54 the number of citizen-journalists killed in Syria since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

Mazen Darwish, who was awarded the 2012 Reporters Without Borders - Le Monde - TV5MONDE Press Freedom Prize, meanwhile continues to be detained although almost a year has gone by since the raid on the SCM.

Syria is ranked 176th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, which was published two days ago. Of all the countries ranked in the index, Syria is the one where the most violations of freedom of information were reported in 2012.

In a related context, the abduction of three foreign journalists near Aleppo for 12 hours on 22 January has reinforced Reporters Without Borders' concern about abductions of both foreign and Syrian journalists in the course of Syria's ongoing armed conflict.

A total of four foreign journalists are currently being held by abductors, or are missing and possibly held captive.

Reporters Without Borders urges their captors to release them and reminds all parties to the conflict that, under international law, they should not target journalists. It also calls on the Syrian authorities to release the 36 journalists and citizen-journalists they are currently holding.

The three journalists abducted on 22 January were Mexican reporter Témoris Grecko, Hungarian reporter Balint Szlanko and Spanish photographer Andoni Lubaki.

Together with a driver-interpreter and a bodyguard, they were captured by armed members of a criminal gang while heading to the northern town of Al-Ezaa, where fighting had broken out the day before, and were released after 12 hours. Read Szlanko's account in The Daily Beast.

Read in Arabic.

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