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SYRIA: playwright arrested; fears for safety

Monday 21 January 2013 - 12:00am

21 January 2013 - RAN 03/13

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International fears for the safety of playwright and actor Zaki Cordillo, who has been held since 13 August 2012 in Damascu. Cordillo remains detained incommunicado at an unknown location, and is considered to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. PEN International considers Zaki Cordillo to be targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his 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 his immediate and unconditional release. It urgently seeks information about his whereabouts, any charges against him and guarantees of his safety in detention.

According to PEN’s information, Zaki Cordillo was arrested in Damascus on 13 August 2012 along with his son Mihyar, an actor. He is believed to be targeted for his writings about the current events taking place in Syria. Cordillo is a playwright and a leading figure of Puppet Theatre (known in Arabic as Masrah Azil).

Cordillo has written more than eight plays including Shade and Light, Captain Caracoz and Alma’ar and has directed and acted in his works. He has also written dramas for children such as Watery Dreams, The Active Girl and The Kingdom of Ants.

Since the start of the conflict, dozens of writers, poets and playwrights have been arrested for peacefully expressing their views about the current events taking place in Syria. They include Syrian Palestinian political analyst and blogger Ali Al-Shihabi, arrested on 15 December 2012 by Syrian secret services. His whereabouts are still unknown. Al-Shihabi is a leading writer and has published several books including The World New Structure and Syria, Where to?. He previously spent nine years in prison for his peaceful opposition activities.

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 the conflict in Syria click here

Please send appeals:
Expressing grave concern for the well-being and whereabouts of playwright Zaki Cordillo and writer Ali al-Shihabi
Expressing concerns for their safety, 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 playwright Zaki Cordillo, writer Ali al-Shihabi and all those currently detained in Syria in violation of Article 19 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria is a state party.

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 local media and among other interested groups.

For further information please contact Ghias Aljundi 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: