SYRIA: Journalists and bloggers arrested; fears for safety.


RAN 11/12 – 23 February 2012

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International fears for the safety of leading journalist Mazen Darwich, who was arrested on 17 February 2012 along with thirteen fellow press freedom activists and bloggers from the Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Darwich and six bloggers in the group remain detained incommunicado at an unknown location, and are considered to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. PEN International considers Mazen Darwich and bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani and Abdelrahman Hamadah to be targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. It urgently seeks information about their whereabouts, any charges against them and guarantees of their safety in detention.

According to PEN’s information, Mazin Darwich and thirteen of his colleagues were arrested when security forces raided the offices of the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) of which he is Director. Those arrested with him are his wife and blogger Yara Badr (f), and bloggers Razan Ghazzawi (f), Hanadi Zahlout (f), Sana Z’itani (f), Rita Dayoub (f), Maha Al-Assablani (f), Mayada Al-Khalil (f), Hussein Greir, Hani Z’itani, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid and Abdelrahman Hamadah. On 19 February 2012, all the female detainees in the group were released under the condition that they report to the Air Forces secret services in the following day. Details remain unclear about their current status but they are thought to remain under heavy restriction. Bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani and Abdelrahman Hamadah remain detained. Concerns for their welfare are mounting.

Darwich was previously briefly detained and interrogated for his peaceful opposition activities and reporting in March 2011. His centre, which is the only independent non-governmental organisation in Syria that monitors the media and the internet, has been closed by the authorities twice, in 2005 and 2009.

Background
Anti-government protests were sparked in mid-March 2011 and have since spread across the country. Mass arrests have been taking place and security officers have responded to the continuing protests with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators, and bombarding opposition stronghold areas with mortar bombs and rockets. Thousands of civilians have been killed and many more wounded. Protestors continue to demand political reform and to call upon President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Syrian authorities continue to suppress these protests with force, often indiscriminately, despite promises to end the violence.

With the internet and media already severely curtailed in recent years, the Syrian authorities have imposed even greater restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in reaction to recent events. Most foreign reporters and correspondents have been asked to leave the country and access to any independent media is denied.

For a statement by PEN International on recent events in Syria click here

Please send appeals:
Expressing grave concern for the well-being and whereabouts of journalist and activist Mazen Darwich, bloggers Hussein Greir, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mansour Hamid, Hani Z’itani and Abdelrahman Hamadah
Expressing concerns for the safety of the detainees, and seeking assurances that they are not being tortured or ill-treated in detention which violates Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria is a state party.

APPEALS TO:
Given the present crisis in Syria, we suggest that letters are sent to the Syrian embassies in your country where they exist. Also, please distribute this alert as widely as possible in your media and among other interested group.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@pen-international.org