English PEN is dismayed to learn that Mazen Darwish, winner of the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Award, has had his hearing postponed. This is the third time in two months that a scheduled court date has been cancelled.
Darwish is the founding President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), which since 2011 has documented the human rights abuses taking place in Syria. Darwish has been awaiting trial since 16 February 2012, when he was arrested and charged with ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Article 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
The charges are widely considered to be an abuse of Mazen Darwish’s right to freedom of expression. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that Darwish and his co-detainees, bloggers Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty due to their human rights activities. In May, the UN General Assembly called for the immediate release of all three men. In September, English PEN joined with 78 other international NGOs in condemning the detention and demanding his immediate, unconditional release. Meanwhile, lawyers acting for Darwish have pointed to procedural irregularities with the detention, including a lack of a proper arrest warrant and a failure by the security services to produce information requested by the court. Former detainees have reported that Darwish, Al-Zitani and Ghareer have suffered torture while in prison, yet the Syria authorities refuse to investigate these allegations.
Despite the ill-treatment, legal set-backs, and the ongoing delays in his trial, Mazen Darwish remains defiant. His PEN Pinter prize acceptance speech, written from prison and sent to English PEN in October, is an impassioned plea for an end to the civil war and a call for democracy in Syria. The full text of the speech is available in English and Arabic on the English PEN website.
- Share details of their case on social media using the hashtag #FreeSYVoices, and call on the Syrian authorities (@Presidency_Sy) to release them immediately;
- Send a message of support to Mazen Darwish and his family via firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Mazen Darwish is among the nominees for the 2014 Human Rights Tulip – you can show your support by voting for him here;
- Visit the Free Syria’s Silenced Voices website for more information and suggested actions.