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Syria: GCHR welcomes the release of human rights defenders Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir and calls for the immediate release of Mazen Darwish

2015-07-29

Update: On July 22, 2015, a verdict hearing in their trial, which had already been rescheduled 25 times since February 2013, was once again postponed and set for August 31, 2015.

Human rights defenders and members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression (SCM), Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani were released from prison on 17 and 18 July 2015 respectively. They have been detained since February 2012 following a raid on the offices of the SCM, a non-governmental organisation working to disseminate information regarding the human rights situation in Syria. Their colleague Mazen Darwish, however remains in detention.

It is reported that a list of detainees to be granted amnesty was received by the Hama prison administration and Mazen Darwish was amongst those named. However, instead of releasing him the authorities carried out a security check against him and the State Security Department in Hama decided to move him from Hama prison, where he was kept, to the State Security Department number 285 in Damascus.

Mazen Darwish is Director of the SCM and a prominent human rights defender who was awarded the 2015 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize as a result of his work. His continued detention is a flagrant breach of international human rights law and basic human rights.

It is reported that despite the release of Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani they may face on-going legal procedures and charges against them have not been dropped. The next court hearing for the three defenders is scheduled to take place on 22 July in the Syrian capital.

On 16 February 2012, the Syrian Air Force arrested the three men during a raid on the offices of the SCM. Other members who were also detained were released later. The three were held initially in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance, and have been subjected to ill treatment and torture during their detention. They were charged with “publicising terror acts” under the 2012 Anti- Terrorism Law.

Repeated calls have been made for their release by many human rights organisations and the international community. In February 2015 the GCHR and 70 other human rights organisations marked the anniversary of their arrest (http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/910). The European Parliament passed a motion calling for a resolution for their release earlier this month. In May 2013, a UN General Assembly resolution on "The Situation in The Syrian Arab Republic" called inter alia for their release and in January 2014 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found that the three had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty due to their human rights activities and called for their immediate release.

The three men were arrested as a direct result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights work and while the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) welcomes the release of Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani it calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Syria to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish and drop all charges against him;
  2. Ensure that Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani are not subjected to legal proceedings and all charges against them dropped now that they have been released;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders in prison as a result of their human rights work;
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Syria are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters“, and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.”