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As hundreds of Syrian prisoners freed, Mazen Darwish awaits trial from behind bars

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 31 July 2015.

Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) is still being held although his SCM colleagues Hussein Ghreer and Hani Al-Zitani were released provisionally two weeks ago along with hundreds of other detainees during the Eid-Al-Fitr religious holiday.

With exactly a month to go to the next hearing in their drawn-out trial, Reporters Without Borders joins Mazen Darwish's family in requesting his immediate release. According to his family, he is now being held at the General Directorate for Security in Damascus.

“We condemn Mazen Darwish's arbitrary detention and the judicial persecution to which he continues to be subjected, and we urge the authorities to free him at once,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk.

“Darwish and his colleagues were imprisoned while doing an excellent job of documenting human rights violations in Syria. All three, and their other SCM colleagues, should be granted an unconditional release and all charges against them should be dropped.”

Released provisionally on 17 and 18 July respectively, Hussein Ghreer and Hani Al-Zitani continue to be co-defendants along with Darwish in the same trial on terrorism charges that has been postponed about 25 times since February 2013. The next hearing is scheduled for 31 August.

No official information is available about Darwish's current status and location. According to his family, he was transferred from Hama prison (where he had been since January) to Damascus in order to be released, like his colleagues, but the General Directorate for Security (Syrian's main civilian intelligence agency) decided to continue holding him.

His family and colleagues have issued a statement summarizing the latest information about his case, calling for his immediate release, and holding the authorities responsible for his safety.

A long battle against injustice

Darwish, Ghreer and Al-Zitani were arrested along with all of the SCM's other employees when air force intelligence officers raided its Damascus headquarters on 16 February 2012. They were subjected to enforced disappearance after their arrest, and were mistreated and tortured.

Their trial on a charge of “publishing information about terrorist acts” was quickly suspended after it began in February 2013 and was thereafter repeatedly postponed.

The UN General Assembly called for the release of Darwish and his colleagues in its Resolution 67/262 of 15 May 2013. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention did the same in January 2014. Security Council Resolution 2139 of 22 February 2014 called for the release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Syria.

Ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Syria continues to be one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.

Click here for a brief profile on Mazen Darwish.

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