Journalist and human rights defender Mazen Darwish is the founding President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). Founded in 2004, the SCM works to promote freedom of opinion and expression and, since the uprising began in 2011, has documented the human rights abuses taking place in Syria. Darwish was arrested on 16 February 2012, alongside bloggers and SCM members Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, after their offices were raided by Air Force Intelligence officers. In March 2014 the General Prosecutor of the Anti-Terrorism Court of Damascus presented charges against them of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Article 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.
In spite of repeated calls by the international community for his immediate release, including from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) which declared his detention to be arbitrary in November 2013, three years on from their arrest Darwish and his colleagues remain detained pending trial.
Their lawyers have highlighted several procedural irregularities, including the absence of an arrest warrant. Furthermore, the trial has failed to comply with international standards and has been subject to excessive delays, most recently in January 2015. A new trial date has not yet been set.
To mark the anniversary, PEN has joined forces with colleagues from SCM and other freedom of expression organisations to issue a statement calling for their immediate release. Read the full statement here
Yara Badr, Mazen Darwish’s wife and the current director of the SCM has also issued a statement on her husband’s continuing detention via the Free Syrian Voices website:
It is now three years since my husband, Mazen, and our dear friends and colleagues Hani and Hussein were taken from us and locked away in the Syrian regime’s prisons. More than the personal, it is for our homeland, Syria, that this is the biggest loss – what Mazen and others who suffer the same fate were trying to do was to make real change in Syria through nonviolent means, recognizing the dignity of all. By locking away these people, the regime has ensured that the only space available in Syria is for brutality, violence and inhumanity on a large scale. Not only do I need Mazen free, Syria and the Syrian people need all our heroes in prison freed immediately, for the sake of our future.
In October 2014, PEN Pinter Prize winner Salman Rushdie chose Mazen Darwish as the international writer of courage with whom to share the prize, stating ‘Mazen Darwish courageously fought for civilised values – free expression, human rights – in one of the most dangerous places in the world. His continued detention is arbitrary and unjust. He should be freed immediately, and we must hope this award may help, by shining a light on his plight.’
On the anniversary of his arrest, Rushdie has reiterated his concern:
I’m extremely concerned by Mazen Darwish’s continued imprisonment and of course I support this call for his immediate release.
English PEN continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir – please join us.
- Show your support for Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir on social media – #FreeSYVoices @englishpen
- Read and share Mazen Darwish’s remarkable PEN Pinter Prize winning speech (English, translated by Alice Guthrie) (Arabic)
- Send a message of support via firstname.lastname@example.org
- Get involved in the Hearts in Our Hands: Campaign to Free Syrian detainees
- Watch and share this video of Yara Badr, Mazen’s wife and the current Director of SCM
- Sign the petition for their release launched by our student PEN centre, York PEN