The arrest of a prominent Syrian-American blogger apparently for her peaceful pro-reform activities is another step backwards for the Syrian regime, Amnesty International said today.
Razan Ghazzawi, aged 31, was arrested by Syrian immigration police at the Syrian-Jordanian border on Sunday. She was on her way to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to attend a workshop on media freedom in the Arab world.
Born in the United States, but brought up in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, Razan Ghazzawi has campaigned for the release of imprisoned bloggers and activists in Syria during the ongoing popular pro-reform protests and ensuing violent crackdown by Syrian security forces.
“The Syrian government committed to release all detainees held for their involvement in the ongoing events but many thousands remain behind bars, and are now joined by blogger Razan Ghazzawi who is well known for her promotion of freedom of expression,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s interim Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Razan Ghazzawi is almost certainly a prisoner of conscience, held solely for the peaceful expression of her legitimately held beliefs. She should be be released immediately and unconditionally unless she is to be charged with a recognizable criminal offence.”
“The fact that she is currently being held incommunicado at an unknown location means that she is at risk of torture. At the very least, the Syrian authorities must immediately inform her family of her whereabouts and grant her access to relatives and a lawyer of her choice.”
Thousands of other people have been arrested since pro-reform protests began in Syria in mid-March, with many held incommunicado at unknown locations in which torture and other ill-treatment are reported to be rife. Amnesty International has received the names of 180 individuals who are reported to have died in custody in Syria since March.
Razan Ghazzawi, who works as a media officer at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, is one of the few Syrian bloggers to post under her own name. She posted information about human rights violations in Syria and other issues in her blog at http://razanghazzawi.com, and on Twitter as @RedRazan.
Fellow bloggers have launched an online campaign to lobby for her release.
Her last post, on 1 December, celebrated the release of fellow blogger, Hussein Gher. He was freed late last week after more than 30 days in prison.
Friends and colleagues have praised Razan Ghazzawi’s determination and bravery. Shortly before her arrest, she said:
“If anything happens to me, know that the regime does not fear the prisoners but rather those of you who do not forget them."
On 2 November 2011, the Syrian government agreed, as part of a roadmap with the Arab League to end the violence, to release all detainees held in connection with the events. Syria’s failure to implement this and other commitments – including access to international observers - led to its suspension from the regional body.
On 23 November, a Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council said it was “gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed” in Syria.
Amnesty International has called since April 2011 for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to investigate violations amounting to crimes against humanity.