Syria: Syrian court must free PEN Pinter prize-winner Mazen Darwish

Mazen Darwish is the founding president of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expresssion (SCM). In February 2012 he was arrested, along with bloggers and fellow SCM members Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, when their offices were raided by the Syrian security services.

The three men were held without trial until March 2014 when the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus presented charges of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Article 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law, issued by presidential decree. They have never been tried on these charges, and on 9 June 2014 the government issued a general amnesty that should have led to their release. Despite this, Darwish, Al-Zitani and Gharir remain in prison.

According to subpoenas issued by the Anti-Terrorism Court, the three men will appear before the court on 25 March 2015. The hearing has been subjected to repeated delays.

English PEN considers the charges brought against the three men to be deeply flawed. The Anti-Terrorism Law does not meet international standards and allows the government extraordinary leeway to imprison journalists and bloggers reporting in Syria. The men were initially detained despite the absence of an arrest warrant.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said:

Mazen Darwish and his colleagues have been imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression. There is no justification or legal basis for their ongoing detention, which violates the rule of law. We urge the court to order the release Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir and to guarantee their freedom to write in Syria without fear of further arrest.

The ongoing detention has also been criticised by international bodies. UN General Assembly, in resolution 67/262 of 15 May 15 2013 called for the release of the three men. In January 2014 The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that Darwish, Al-Zitani and Gharir were arbritarily detained and called for their immediate release. UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted on 22 February 2014, demanded the release of all arbitrarily detained people in Syria.

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