Reporters Without Borders today condemned a 10-day prison sentence handed down yesterday to independent journalist Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.
He was sentenced under Article 387 of the criminal code for “defamation and insulting state administrative bodies”. The verdict will appear on his record for a period of three to seven years, during which he will be banned from renewing his identity papers, including his passport. Darwish is expected to appeal.
The Damascus military tribunal finally ordered that he serve just two days in prison, taking into account his clean record and the fact he was held in custody for three days after his arrest, while covering riots in one of the capital’s suburbs, Adra, in January 2008.
The court ordered the restitution of his laptop computer which had been seized by police. However his working notes and photos remain permanently confiscated.
The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, a partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders, voiced its concern about the sentence. “The Syrian government allows itself to punish journalists even before they publish their work”, it said in a press statement released after the conclusion of the case.
Reporters Without Borders calls for charges to be dropped against head of its partner organisation
Reporters Without Borders has appealed for charges to be dropped against Mazen Darwish, the president of its partner organisation, the Syrian Center for Media & Freedom of Expression, two days ahead of the verdict in his defamation trial, on 18 June.
Darwish, a journalist and human rights activist, was arrested on 12 January 2008 while covering violent clashes in the Damascus suburb of Adra and was held in custody for three days. He was taken before a military judge on 17 March after the Adra police chief laid a charge against him of “defaming and insulting the administrative body of the state”.
“Freedom of expression and pluralism of information remain a pipedream in Syria, as evidenced by the wave of arrests of journalists and human rights activists who focus attention on the repressive abuses of the Baathist regime”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
The Syrian Center for Media & Freedom of Expression, founded in December 2004, has never been recognised by the Damascus authorities. Without accreditation, its members have serious difficulties in carrying out their work. The Center joined the Reporters Without Borders’ network of partnership organisations in December 2007.
Syrian President Bashar el-Assad is on the organisation’s list of press freedom ‘predators’. Seven journalists and cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in the country.