English PEN and PEN International warmly welcome the release of Mazen Darwish, Syrian activist, journalist and winner of the 2014 PEN Pinter Prize for international writer of courage. Darwish, founding president of the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM), was released from prison today pending a trial hearing on 31 August.
Confirming his release, Director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression and Darwish’s wife Yara Bader, said:
After the arbitrary arrest that lasted three years, five months, and 23 days, Mazen Darwish was released today. However, he is to attend a court hearing scheduled on the 31 August.
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression welcomes [our] colleague Darwish, and congratulates him [on] his freedom. We also thank all human rights organizations, lawyers and the defence body, specific individuals and all those who supported the issue of detainees in the Centre and Mazen Darwish specifically, founder of the Centre ever since the raid by the Air Force Intelligence on the headquarters of the Centre in Damascus on 16 February 2012 until today.
The release of Mazen Darwish follows that of his SCM colleagues Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, both of whom were released in July. Whilst PEN is delighted that Mazen Darwish has finally been released, we remain seriously concerned that he is due to appear in court later this month, on 31 August.
Salman Rushdie, who chose to share the 2014 PEN Pinter Prize with Mazen Darwish, stated:
I’m delighted by this good news – congratulations to Mazen Darwish and his family, and to English PEN for so energetically, and successfully, highlighting and pursuing his case.
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:
This is wonderful news. We are so relieved that Mazen Darwish has finally been released, and happy for Mazen and his wife Yara Bader. Yara has been a great inspiration to us all throughout the campaign for his release and we hope that they will be reunited very soon. However, we also remain concerned for Mazen and his colleagues Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir and will continue to call for charges against them to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:
The Syrian authorities’ relentless crackdown on journalists and human rights activists must stop. The release of Mazen Darwish is a small step to ending this injustice. All charges against him, his colleagues and others who are imprisoned solely for peaceful exercise of freedom of expression must be dropped immediately.
Mazen Darwish was detained along with colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir in February 2012, when Syrian Air Force Intelligence raided the offices of SCM. The three men were detained for over two years without trial, at times in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance. During this time they were reportedly subjected to torture and other forms of ill treatment.
Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir were released last month as part of a Presidential pardon, but continue to face criminal charges. Darwish, who was included in the list of detainees to be granted amnesty, was kept for a further 23 days before being released today, 10 August.
PEN believes that Hani Al-Zitani, Hussein Gharir and Mazen Darwish were held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and we continue to call for all charges against them to be dropped immediately.
One of the most dangerous countries for journalists, Syria is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.