SYRIA – Eight journalists and bloggers freed, 31 still held
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.