30 August –2017
Available in Arabic
30 August – On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances take action with PEN for Syrians writers victims of enforced disappearance.
On 2nd October, 2012 human rights lawyer and writer Khalil Ma’touq was arrested with his assistant Mohamed Thatha in Syria. Nearly five years later they remain missing.
Ma’touq and Thatha were seized at a government-operated checkpoint on their way from Ma’touq’s home in Sahnaya to their office in Damascus. It is believed that their arrest and subsequent enforced disappearance are related to their work as human rights lawyers specialising in defending political prisoners.
Khalil Ma’touq is a prominent human rights lawyer and the former director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research. He has been defending prisoners of conscience and political prisoners for over 20 years. Among other things, he was involved in the trial of Mazen Darwish, the Syrian lawyer and free speech advocate. Ma’touq has written and published many articles in several newspapers and websites in which he focused on issues related to human rights, international law and impunity in general. In 2015, Ma’touq was shortlisted for the prestigious L4L Award, a prize awarded by the Dutch organisation ‘Lawyers for Lawyers’ and given to advocates ‘who work to promote the rule of law and human rights in an exceptional way and are threatened because of their work’.
Because of his human rights activities and subsequent publications, Khalil Ma’touq was banned by the Syrian authorities from travelling between 2005 and 2011. He suffers from advanced lung disease, for which he requires specific medication and medical care. Despite his illness, though, Ma’touq continued his peaceful activities in defending prisoners of conscience, particularly after the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, until his arrest and enforced disappearance.
Ma’touq, a man who dedicated his life to writing about human rights and defending Syrian detainees and prisoners, has now become one of them.
The Syrian authorities continue to deny his detention despite reports by released detainees of sightings Ma’touq in different government-run detention centres, including State Security Branch 285 and Military Intelligence Branch 235 in Damascus.
Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of the Syrian authorities’ attempts to silence those who dare speak out. Ma’touq is one of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, including writers and journalists, who have been arbitrary arrested and subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian authorities. Among these writers who remain disappeared, Abd al-Akram al-Sakka, an Islamic scholar and writer (arrested on 15 July 2011), Zaki Cordillo, playwright and leading figure of the Puppet Theatre (arrested on 13 August 2012), Hussein Essou, a Kurdish-Syrian writer (arrested on 3 September 2011), Adnan Zarra’ai, a playwright and script-writer (arrested on 26 February 2012), Ali al-Shihabi, a Syrian-Palestinian political analyst and blogger (arrested on 17 December 2012). This pattern of oppression continues today against those who exercise their right to freedom of expression and show any kind of opposition against the Assad regime and its crimes.
Syrians activists and writers have also been victims of enforced disappearance perpetrated by armed non-state actors who have taken control of some areas in the country. On 9 December 2013, prominent human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, along with her colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and her husband Wa’el Hamada, was abducted during a raid by a group of armed men on the offices of the Violations Documentation Center in Douma, near Damascus. Zaitouneh and her colleagues had been forced into hiding in 2011 after receiving threats from the Syrian authorities. Their fate remains unknown to date.
Enforced disappearance places the victims outside the protection of the law and exposes them to high risk of torture and extrajudicial killing. It also affects the victims’ families who suffer from the absence of any news concerning the whereabouts of their loved ones. Enforced disappearance is a gross human rights violation, and is considered a crime against humanity in Syria. In a report published on 5 February 2015, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stipulated that: “Government forces perpetrated massacres and unlawful killings as part of a widespread attack directed against the civilian population. The attack included widespread shelling and bombardment of civilian-inhabited localities and the targeting of civilians for arrest, detention and disappearance on the basis of their association or perceived opposition to the Government”.
Please send appeals:
- Expressing concern at the continued enforced disappearance of prominent human rights lawyer and writer Khalil Ma’touq, as well as hundreds of thousands of Syrians;
- Calling on the Syrian authorities to end its policy of enforced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings and to release immediately and unconditionally those held in detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion;
- Calling on the Syrian authorities as well as on other armed groups operating in Syria to immediately disclose the whereabouts of those who are subject to enforced disappearance and to grant them access to their family and medical care;
- Calling on the Syrian authorities to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture (to which Syria is a state party) as well as to sign, ratify and implement the international Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance;
- Calling on all parties to ensure a political transition in Syria which will put an end to this on-going conflict and the massive human rights violations it continues to create.
H.E. Mr. António Guterres
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Executive Office of the Secretary-General
S-3800, United Nations Secretariat Bldg
New York, NY 10017, USA
President of the United Nations Security Council
405 East 42nd Street
New York, NY, 10017, USA
Prince Zeid Bin Ra’ad Al-Hussein
The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Khalil Ma’touq’s case and the pattern of enforced disappearances in Syria;
- Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations;
- Share information about these cases and your campaigning activities for them via social media.
Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.
For any further information, please contact Nael Georges, PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Email: Nael.Georges@pen-international.org