Today’s conditional release of Mazen Darwish, a human rights activist who had been jailed on trumped-up terrorism-related charges, ends the worst of a painful ordeal for him and his family over the past three and a half years, said Amnesty International.
Mazen Darwish, Director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), spent over three years in arbitrary detention after being arrested alongside a number of other colleagues during a raid on the office of the SCM by Air Force Intelligence personnel in Damascus in February 2012. Mazen Darwish is the last of the group to be released, two of his colleagues Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir were conditionally released last month.
“Mazen Darwish and his colleagues should never have been in jail in the first place. His release today is long overdue, but comes as a welcome relief after three and half years of anguish and uncertainty. The Syrian authorities must drop all charges against Mazen and his colleagues and end their relentless campaign to target anyone who dares to speak out about the appalling human rights violations in the country,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
In February 2013, a year after their arrest, the three activists and two of their other colleagues, were accused of “publicizing terrorist acts” before the Anti-Terrorism Court. They remain on trial with the next court session scheduled for 30 August. Their organization worked to document human rights violations in Syria, particularly regarding freedom of expression.
The three men were held in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance for over nine months, during which they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated, before being sent to ‘Adra Prison on the outskirts of Damascus. The UN Working Group for Arbitrary Detention called for their release in January 2014, as had the UN General Assembly in a resolution in May 2013. The UN Security Council has also demanded that all arbitrarily detained individuals in Syria be released in resolution 2139 of February 2014.