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Syrian rights advocate Mazen Darwish released from prison

Lucie Morillon, head of research at Reporters without Borders holds a banner depicting Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest against violence in Syria, in Paris, on 20 October 2012
Lucie Morillon, head of research at Reporters without Borders holds a banner depicting Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest against violence in Syria, in Paris, on 20 October 2012

AP Photo/Francois Mori

This statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 10 August 2015.

Renowned Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish, the International Press Institute's (IPI) 2015 World Press Freedom Hero, was freed today after spending nearly three-and-a-half years behind bars in his home country on spurious terrorism charges.

Yara Bader, Mazen's wife and the director of the Syrian Centre for Media Freedom (SCM), the organisation founded by Darwish in 2004 to protect media freedom and support journalists' rights in Syria, confirmed the news to IPI by phone.

Bader told IPI that the release had occurred suddenly and described her husband's state as “extremely happy, but also tired”. She added, pointedly: “Mazen has been released but he is still not free [of the charges against him].” Darwish is scheduled to appear before an anti-terrorism court on August 31, according to Bader.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi welcomed the news, but reiterated IPI's demand that the Syrian government drop all charges against Darwish.

“We are thrilled that Mazen Darwish has finally been given back his freedom after having endured so many years of unjust deprivation at the hands of the Syrian government,” she said. “Mazen has suffered tremendously for the cause of press freedom and his courage in having continued to advocate for universal human rights even from behind bars has been an inspiration to IPI and its members.

“We are, however, under no illusion. IPI will not rest its voice on behalf of Mazen and his colleagues Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zaitani until the charges against them have been completely dropped, and we will continue to advocate for each and every Syrian journalist whose right to freedom of expression has been denied.”

Darwish, together with several colleagues, was arrested in February 2012 during a raid by Syrian Air Force Intelligence on SCM's offices. He was held without charges until March 2014, when he was accused of “publicising terrorist acts” under Art. 8 of Syria's 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. In June 2014, the Syrian government announced a general amnesty for all persons charged under certain national security offences, including Art. 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. However, Darwish and two colleagues, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zaitani, were not released and the charges against them were maintained.

A Syrian anti-terrorism court repeatedly postponed a hearing in the case against Darwish, who is believed to have endured grave ill-treatment, and possibly torture, over the course of his detention.

In March 2015, IPI honoured Mazen Darwish as its 2015 World Press Freedom Hero at a ceremony during IPI's 2015 World Congress in Yangon, Myanmar. Appearing on her husband's behalf, Yara Bader told Congress attendees the award was “an honour to all the victims of the word an information in Syria”.

Less than two months later, Darwish was awarded the 2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia during a ceremony at UNESCO World Press Freedom Day in Riga, Latvia.

Under Darwish's direction, the SCM regularly reported on free speech violations and journalists' working conditions, collected and publicised the disappearances of bloggers and media figures, and advocated for legal reform. Darwish also served as editor of Mashed al-Suri (syriaview.net), an independent news website that SCM operated until it was blocked by Syrian authorities in 2006.

In 2007, authorities revoked Darwish's passport and in early 2008 he was sentenced to spend 10 days in jail after being arrested while covering riots in Damascus' suburbs. Following the outbreak of the current Syrian conflict in 2011, he was a major source of information for foreign media until his arrest in February 2012.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Mazen Darwish free at last

    A Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Laureate, Darwish is a leading symbol of resistance to a regime that has constantly suppressed independently reported news and information and covered up human rights violations. We call for the unconditional release of Darwish, Hussein Ghreer, Hani Al-Zitani and all journalists who are unjustly detained in Syria.



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