Free Human Rights Defenders

Joint NGO Statement

(New York) – Human Rights Watch joined more than 30 other organizations today in calling on Syrian authorities to release Mazen Darwish, a prominent human rights defender and and director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), as well as seven of his colleagues and a visitor to SCM, all detained on February 16. The statement follows:

Syrian Authorities Must Immediately and Unconditionally Release Mazen Darwish and Other Detained Activists

The undersigned Organizations call on the Syrian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish, a prominent Syrian human rights defender and director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) – an organization that enjoys UN ECOSOC consultative status -, as well as seven of his colleagues and a visitor, who were arrested on February 16, 2012 during a raid on their Damascus offices.

In total 16 people were arrested during the raid at SCM offices in Damascus, which was carried out by officers from Air Force Intelligence (AFI) who were assisted by a group of plain-clothed armed men, according to a statement from the SCM. Seven people have been conditionally released and have to report to the detention center every day for further interrogations.

SCM has played a key role in getting out information about daily developments in Syria as international journalists have only limited access to the country. Mazen Darwish has previously been repeatedly subjected to interrogation by Syrian security services regarding his human rights related activities, including his work with SCM. The arrest of Mazen Darwish and his co-workers is apparently related to their peaceful activities as human right defenders, bloggers and journalists.

“The raid on SCM offices and the detention of Mazen Darwish and his colleagues is a further attack by Syrian security services on Syrian human rights defenders and their rights to freedom of association and expression. This represents the latest attempt to silence those who have been witnessing, documenting and reporting on the ongoing gross human rights violations committed by the Syrian security forces in Syria,” the Organizations said. “The Syrian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release these individuals.”

Individuals following the case inside Syria reported that they believed the detainees are being held incommunicado at an AFI detention facility in El Mezze, Damascus.The use of torture and other ill treatment has been widespread and systematic in Syrian detention facilities, including in the facilities of the AFI.

“It is the responsibility of the Syrian authorities to protect Mazen Darwish and his colleagues from any form of ill-treatment or torture and to ensure that, as long as they remain in detention, their rights of access to lawyers, family members and independent medical personnel are fully guaranteed,” the Organizations said.

Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation

Alkarama Foundation

Amnesty International

Arab Network for human rights information

Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression

Association For Women’s Rights in Development

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Committee to Protect Journalists

Community Media network

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies

Doha Centre for Media Freedom

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network

Free Press Unlimited

FRONT LINE DEFENDERS

Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation - Hivos

IKV Pax Christi

Index on Censorship

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

International Commission of Jurists

International Media Support

International Press Institute

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Iraqi Journalists' Rights' Defense association

Justice for Iran

Maharat Foundation

Observatory for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Reporters Without Borders

Samir Kassir Foundation

Syrian Organization for Human Rights - Sawasiah

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