Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that six of the activists arrested during the 16 February raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) – Yara Badr, Mayadah Khaleel, Razan Ghazzawi, Rita Dayoub, Sana Zetani and Hanadi Zahlout – were released two days later, on the evening of 18 February.
The six – all of the six women still held since the raid – were nonetheless told to report every day to the headquarters of the Syrian air force intelligence for as long as the investigation continues, a form of harassment that Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns. A seventh woman arrested during the raid, Maha Assabalani, was released within a few hours.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that two other people were arrested during the raid on the SCM – Ayham Ghazzoul and Shady Yazbek, a visitor. This brings the total number of people arrested in the raid to 16, of whom nine are still being held at air force intelligence in the Damascus suburb of Mezzeh.
The nine still held are:
- SCM president Mazen Darwish
- Hussein Ghareer
- Hani Zetani
- Joan Farso
- Bassam Al-Ahmad
- Mansour Al-Omari
- Abdelrahman Hamada
- Ayham Ghazzoul
- Shady Yazbek
Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate and unconditional release and condemns the methods used by authorities, who will be called to account for any mistreatment. The detainees have reportedly been tortured.
Four United Nations experts have also condemned the raid and expressed concern about the way the detained activists are being treated.
Reporters Without Borders would also like to express its condolences to the family and colleagues of New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died during a reporting visit to Syria on 16 February as a result of an asthma attack. The staff of the New York Times has paid tribute to Shadid, who was a Middle East specialist (read the tributes).
The detained filmmaker and cyber-activist Firas Fayyad was meanwhile released on 19 February. Arrested on 1 December at Damascus airport as he was about to fly to Dubai, Fayyad was held on charges of spreading false information and belonging to an opposition movement.
Access to Bambuser, a Swedish website that allows users to post video footage shot with a mobile phone, has been blocked in Syria since 16 February. Confirming this the next day, the head of the site said “dictators don’t like Bambuser” and that the Assad regime regarded it as a “serious threat.”
The Syrian opposition has been using Bambuser to circulate video footage of the government’s brutal repression. Video of the bombardment of Homs that had been posted on Bambuser was recently broadcast by the main Syrian TV stations. Bambuser was blocked in Egypt in January 2011 and has been blocked in Bahrain for the past seven months.
Raid on Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression
16 February 2012
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns today’s arrest of Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Security forces arrested him during a raid on his office in Damascus at midday together with his companion Yara Badr and the blogger Razan Ghazzawi.
Twelve other people, including employees of the centre, journalists, bloggers and human rights activists, were arrested during the raid. They were identified as Hanadi Zahlout, Hussein Ghareer, Hani Zetani, Sana Zetani, Rita Dayoub, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Mayadah Khaleel, Maha Al-Assablani, Mansour Al-Omari and Abdelrahman Hamada.
Assablani was freed a few hours later but she is facing the possibility of deportation.
Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned for the physical safety of the others and calls for their immediate release.
Darwish has had run-ins with the authorities before. He was questioned by intelligence officials in Damascus for four hours on the evening of 22 March 2011 and was interrogated again the next day.
A week before that, on 16 March, he was briefly arrested while attending a peaceful sit-in outside the interior ministry in Damascus as an observer. His centre, which is the only NGO in Syria that monitors the media and the Internet, has been closed by the authorities twice, in 2005 and 2009.
Ghazzawi was previously arrested on 4 December as she was about to cross the border into Jordan and was held for two weeks.
Zahlout, a blogger, has been arrested three times before. The last time she was arrested, on 4 August 2011, she was held until 30 November. Ghareer, who is also a blogger, was previously the victim of an abduction-style arrest on 24 October and was released on 1 December (http://en.rsf.org/syrie-arrest-of-noted-blogger-shows-no-05-12-2011,41512.html).
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression was accorded consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in July 2011. Darwish received the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in October 2011.