Reporters Without Borders welcomes the provisional release of eight journalists and bloggers who were arrested by intelligence officials during a raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in Damascus on 16 February.
“The release of these eight news and information activists at the end of last week is a positive sign, but it should not divert attention from the fact they are still facing a court martial and that dozens of other journalists and netizens are still languishing in Syrian jails,” Reporters Without Borders said, reiterating its call for their immediate release.
Seven of the eight released – Yara Badr, Razan Ghazzawi, Mayada Khalil, Sana Zetani, Joan Farsso, Bassam Al-Ahmed and Ayham Ghazzoul – are SCM members. The eighth, Hanadi Zahlout, was visiting the centre at the time of the raid.
They are all due to appear before a military court on 29 May on a charge of “possessing prohibited documents with a view to distributing them,” which carries a maximum five-year jail sentence.
Five of the eight who are women – Badr, Ghazzawi, Khalil, Zetani and Zahlout – were released three days after the raid but were rearrested when they first appeared before the military court in Damascus on 22 April. The other three – Farsso, Ahmed and Ghazzoul – had remained in detention but were brought before the military court at the same time as the five women on 22 April. They spent at least part of their time in detention in solitary confinement.
Five other SCM members who were also arrested during the 16 February raid – Hussein Gharir, Hani Zetani, Mansour Al-Omari, Abdel Rahman Hamada and SCM president Mazen Darwish – have been held apart from the others and have not as yet been brought before any court.
Human rights lawyer Anwar Al-Bonni told Agence France-Presse during the weekend that he had received word that they might in poor health. The judge handling the case of the other eight has ordered that that Darwish appear as a witness at the 29 May hearing.
According to a Reporters Without Borders tally, at least 31 professional journalists, citizen journalists and cyber-activists are currently detained by the Syrian authorities.
12.05.2012 - Two Turkish journalists released but more than 37 Syrian journalists still held
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that two Turkish journalists who were captured while making a documentary in northwestern Syria two months ago were released today. Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Iranian government acted as mediator in their release.
Adem Özköse, a reporter for the magazine Gerçek Hayat and the daily Milat, and cameraman Hamit Coşkun were abducted by a pro-government militia near the northwestern city of Idleb on 10 March and were handed over to a government intelligence agency.
IHH, a Turkish Islamist humanitarian NGO, announced on 5 May that it had managed to visit the two detained journalists in Damascus. Turgut Alp Boyraz, the head of foreign news at Milat, said they were able to telephone their families on 5 May for the first time since their capture.
Credit : AFP PHOTO/ IHH - Turkish journalists, reporter Adem Ozkose (L) and cameraman Hamit Coskun (R) posing with the President of the IHH Fehmi Bulent Yildirim in Damascus.
Announcing their release, the Turkish foreign minister said: “We expect that they will arrive in Tehran shortly. At our prime minister’s request, we have sent a plane to Iran to bring back journalists.” They are expected to arrive in Turkey this evening or tomorrow, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.
Reporters Without Borders said: “Their release is a big relief but more than 37 journalists and citizen journalists are still detained in Syria. We must not forget them.”
Sham trial before military court begins for detained SCM members
Seven members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) who were arrested during a raid on the centre on 16 February, and a visitor to the centre who was arrested at the same time, appeared before a military judge in Damascus on 9 May, two days after the regime’s sham election.
“Who is going to believe in this fake democracy if Bashar Al-Assad’s government continues to detain and try professional journalists and citizen journalists?” Reporters Without Borders said. “Who do they expect to fool? We continue to be very worried about Syrian journalists and activists who are arrested, jailed and tortured for trying to tell the outside world what is happening in Syria.”
The eight detainees from the SCM raid who were brought before a military court on 9 May were Yara Badr, Razan Ghazzawi, Mayada Khalil, Sana Zetani, Joan Farsso, Bassam Al-Ahmed, Ayham Ghazzoul, and Hanadi Zahlout. They are facing up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 to 5,000 pounds (6 to 60 euros) on a charge of “possessing prohibited documents with a view to distributing them.”
The next hearing is scheduled for 29 May. The judge in charge of the case requested SCM founder and president Mazen Darwish’s appearance as a witness.
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Darwish and four other SCM members – Hussein Gharir, Hani Zetani, Mansour Al-Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada – who were also arrested during the 16 February raid and who, unlike the others, have been held incommunicado ever since. There has been no direct news of Darwish since his arrest.
Another journalist arrested
Hassan Mohamed Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger, was released yesterday after being held incommunicado since his arrest by air force intelligence officers at his home in Salamieh, a town located between Homs and Hama, on 3 May.
Mahmoud has written opinion pieces for the Syria-news.com online newspaper, including this one published on 9 March, in which he uses conspiracy theory to explain the Arab revolts. Born in 1967 and a graduate in economics, he has participated in many demonstrations and advocates peaceful opposition to the Syrian regime.
The following is an incomplete list of the many other journalists and netizens who are detained or missing in Syria:
- Mary Iskander Issa, a journalist who was arrested with her husband Joseph Nakhla, a doctor, in the Damascus suburb of Jermana on 14 April. The security services accuse her husband of treating “terrorists” in their home.
- Assem Hamsho, a freelance journalist arrested in Damascus on 8 April.
- Mahmoud Ali Othman, a citizen journalist and resistance figure who was arrested on 28 March. He was one of the people running the Media Centre in the Homs district of Baba Amr while it was temporarily controlled by insurgents. Two journalists were killed and many others were wounded when the centre was shelled on 22 February. His forced confession was portrayed as interview in a Syrian TV programme on 28 April about the “secrets of Baba Amr.”
- Noura Al-Jizawi, an activist who was arrested in Damascus on 28 March. She is a member of the Syrian Revolution General Commission (an opposition coalition) and Flash News Network, and worked with the Syrian revolutionary newspaper Hurriyat.
- Jamal Al-Omar, a blogger arrested at the Lebanese border on 15 March. He was reportedly transferred recently to Deraa prison with a view to trying him before a military court.
- Jehad Jamal, a blogger arrested with Yara Michel Shammas on 7 March in Damascus.
- Deyaa Labdalla, a blogger arrested in Suweida on 13 February for sending an open letter to President Assad.
- Said Fahd Dairky, an engineer with the national television station who was arrested on 14 January for broadcasting video footage clearly showing that a pro-government demonstration had many fewer participants than the official media claimed.
- Mohamed Omar Al-Khatib, a journalist who was arrested on the outskirts of Damascus on 8 January after sustaining a gunshot injury. He worked for the business and local news sections of the newspaper Al-Watan.
- Moheeb Al-Nawaty, a Palestinian journalist who was reported missing on 5 January, a few days after arriving in Damascus.
- Alaa Al-Khodr, a journalist who was arrested in Deir Ezzor on 18 November 2011. He worked for the official news agency Sana until fired for publicly criticizing the regime’s treatment of civilians.
- Qais Abazli, a blogger who was arrested near Jisr Al-Shoughour. He created the “Anti-corruption Syrians” blog.
- Alaa Shueiti, a cyber-activist who was arrested in Homs on 15 October 2011.
- Shibal Ibrahim, a journalist and writer who was arrested in Kamishli on 22 September 2011.
- Bilal Ahmed Bilal, a producer who was arrested in the Damascus suburb of Moadamieh on 13 September 2011. He worked for TV new station Falesteen Al-Yom.
- Hussein Issou, a journalist and writer who was arrested in Al-Hassakah on 3 September 2011. His family has not had any word of him.
- Amer Abdel Salam, a business journalist who was arrested on 30 August 2011, the day after promulgation of a new media law banning the imprisonment of journalists. It is not known where he is being held.
- Miral Biroreda, an activist, writer and blogger who was arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Al-Hassakah on 26 August 2011. According to the Kurdish Organization for the Defence of Human Rights and Civil Liberties (DAD), he is to be tried on 15 May for participating in demonstrations and writing about the Syrian revolution.
- Abdelmajid Rashed Al-Rahmoun, a journalist who was arrested on 23 August in Hama province. He worked for the daily Al-Fidaa.
- Tarek Said Balsha, a citizen journalist who was arrested in Latakiya on 19 August 2011. According to a recently released prisoner, he was placed in solitary confinement at the end of April 2012.
- Mohamed Nihad Kurdiyya, an engineer who was arrested in Latakiya on 17 August 2011 as he was about to be interviewed by Al-Jazeera.
- Abdel Walid Kharsah, a reporter who was arrested in Deraa on 17 August 2011 while covering the protest movement.
- Abd Qabani, a netizen who was arrested on 8 August 2011 in Damascus.
- Abd Al-Majid Tamer, a journalist who was kidnapped by security forces on 31 May 2011 in Kamishli. He is now said to be in Aleppo prison.
- Firaz Akram Mahmoud, a blogger who was arrested arbitrarily in an Internet café in Homs on 5 February 2011.
- Ahmed Ben Farhan Al-Alawi, a blogger arrested on 28 October 2010.
- Ahmed Ben Abdel Halim Aboush, a blogger held since 20 July 2010. He was previously held for six years, until freed on a presidential pardon on 2 November 2005.
- Tal Al-Mallouhi, a blogger who was 18 when she was arrested in December 2009. A state security court in Damascus sentenced her to five years in prison on 14 February 2012 on a charge of exchanging “intelligence with a foreign country.”