PEN International Oral statement on the continuous deterioration of freedom of expression in Syria


Available in Arabic and French

14 June 2017

UN Human Rights Council 35th Regular Special

Item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Delivered by Sarah Clarke, PEN International

Mr President,

PEN International remains gravely concerned by the deplorable state of freedom of expression in Syria. As the Commission of Inquiry has noted the conflict has now entered its seventh year and massive human rights violations including crimes against humanity and war crimes persist.

Syrian and international journalists and writers face great risks from the Syrian regime and other parties to the conflict. Syria has one of the highest death tolls for journalists in the world with over one hundred killed since the start of the war. Hundreds of citizen journalists have been killed while trying to document human rights violations. Thousands of others, including poets, playwrights and filmmakers have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and disappeared. PEN International has documented many such cases, and today we call the attention of the HRC to the enforced disappearance of the writer Hussein ESSOU and the detention of Ali AL-SHIHABI, the Syrian-Palestinian political analyst and blogger who remains in an unknown location since his arrest on 17 December 2012 by the Palestine Branch of the Syrian Military. Furthermore, the Syrian authorities routinely use the 2012 Counter-Terrorism Law and other vaguely worded provisions within the Syrian Penal Code in order to detain and prosecute those who have voiced criticism against its policies.

Mr President, the international and regional dimensions of this conflict require joint efforts from all parties to put an end to this war and to ensure a democratic transition and durable peace. Freedom of expression is the essential cornerstone to the dialogue necessary to secure accountability, justice and peace.  The voices of Syrian citizens including civil society organisations, human rights defenders, journalists and writers are essential to the success of the peace process.

The Syrian authorities have a crucial obligation to protect and to ensure the right to freedom of expression, in accordance with its obligations under the ICCPR.

PEN International urges this Council, its members and observer states, to call on the Syrian authorities to:

  • Immediately release all those held in detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion;
  • End the prosecutions of journalists and writers simply on the basis of the content of their writings or alleged affiliations;
  • End the policy of torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings;
  • Revoke the excessively broad provisions under the legal domestic, in particular in the “Counter-terrorism Law” and the Syrian penal code, the application of which are incompatible with Syrian’s human rights obligations.
  • Ensure a political transition in Syria which will put an end to this ongoing conflict and the massive human rights violations it continues to create.

Thank you Mr. President