Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the censorship that the Syrian authorities have imposed on national and foreign news media seeking to cover events in the southern city of Deraa. The security forces have blocked access to the city so that there is no one to witness their ruthless crackdown on the protests that have been taking place there during the past few days.
Ahmed Hadifa, a 28-year old blogger better known by the blog name of Ahmad Abu Al-Kheir, was arrested again by the security services in Damascus yesterday “because of his activities on Facebook in support of the protests in Deraa.” Hewas previously held for several days in February without being formally charged.
Maan Aqil, journalist, was detained yesterday after being constantly harassed during the preceding days. Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, was released last night after after being summoned for questioning on 23 March for making statements about the crackdown in Deraa and the recent wave of arrests.
Darwish had already beenheld for several hours on 16 March after being arrested while attending a peaceful sit-in outside the interior ministry headquarters in Damascus as an observer.
Writer and political activist Louay Hussein was also released last night after being arrested at his home on 22 March because of his online activities in support of the demonstrations and calls for reform.
The authorities blocked distribution of the leading pro-government daily Al-Watan yesterday without giving explanation although it is owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of the president. Media sources blamed the move on an article headlined “The Syrian media are lying to us.” The ban was issued at 6 a.m., just after yesterday’s issue had been printed. The information ministry lifted the ban later in the day, again without any explanation.
The same newspaper had itself been criticising the international media’s coverage of the events in Deraa, accusing them of lying and insisting that everything was calm in Syria. An article in the 24 March issue questioned the peaceful nature of the protest movement and voiced support for the crackdown on the demonstrators.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that a photographer and a freelance video reporter working for Agence France-Presse and an Associated Press photographer were briefly held and roughed up while covering the demonstrations in Deraa on 22 March. Their equipment was seized and was handed back a few hours later. When the AFP journalists tried to return to Deraa the next day, their equipment was again seized. They have not yet been able to recover it.