Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Syria: Rights activists brought to trial, others still held incommunicado

Source: IFEX

(RSF/IFEX) - 23 April 2012 - The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the ongoing secret detention of Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and four of his colleagues, more than 65 days after they were arrested in violation of domestic and international law. The organizations also express their deepest concern for the criminal procedure triggered by the Military Prosecutor of Damascus against seven human rights activists working with the SCM and one visitor.

Since 16 February 2012, when the Air Force Intelligence (AFI) conducted a raid at SCM premises in Damascus during which they arrested 16 persons, the Syrian authorities have refused to reveal the whereabouts of eight of them, after seven other persons were conditionally released with the obligation to report every day to the intelligence for further interrogations.

On 22 April, three of the detainees who have been held incommunicado, namely Bassam Al-Ahmad, Joan Farso and Ayham Ghazzoul, were presented to the Military Prosecutor in Damascus, who informed them that they will be prosecuted by a military court for “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them”, a criminal offense that is punishable by six months of imprisonment according to Article 148 of the Syrian Criminal Code. The same day, four of the SCM staff members who had been released on bail, namely Yara Bader, Razan Ghazzawi, Mayadah Khaleel, Sana Zetani and a visitor to the SCM, Hanadi Zahlout were informed that they will also be prosecuted on the same legal grounds.

The eight individuals were transferred to the central prison of Adra in Damascus. Until now, it has not been possible to obtain information regarding the fate of Mazen Darwish, Abdelrahman Hamada, Hussein Ghareer, Mansour Al Omari and Hani Zetani, who are detained incommunicado by the AFI.

According to information received, the Military Prosecutor referred to “recorded material” which was in the possession of the detained activists with the intent to “call for protests” against the Government. The SCM, which enjoys UN ECOSOC consultative status since 2011, played a key role in getting out information about daily developments in Syria at a moment where international observers and journalists were virtually banned from the country. The arrest, detention and prosecution of SCM staff member appear to be aimed at stifling their voice while the Syrian government continues to commit human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity.

The undersigned organizations remind that the Syrian authorities are responsible and accountable under international law for guaranteeing the physical and mental integrity of all detainees, including Mazen Darwish and his colleagues. Furthermore, the organizations call on the Syrian authorities to end the military criminal proceedings launched against members of the SCM, who are all civilians. The Syrian government should immediately release all persons arbitrarily detained.