Syria: On World Press Freedom Day, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls for the protection of the rights to freedom of speech and expression

03.05.14

While this day, 3 May, World Press Freedom Day should be one of celebration of the Press and freedom of speech, the GCHR is reminded of the severe curtailment on the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of opinion and belief.

In recent times many human rights defenders, including journalists and on-line activists, have suffered intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention and other human rights abuses because they have peacefully and legitimately reported on human rights violations or simply expressed their opinion. Some have even been killed.

In Syria director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Mazen Darwish and his SCM colleagues, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer, remain in detention following their arrest over two years ago.  They are charged with "promoting terrorist acts" pursuant to Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2012. They were arrested on February 16 2012, in Damascus, when officers raided the offices of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), a key local nongovernmental organization working to disseminate information regarding the human rights situation in Syria. The authorities refuse to release them despite calls by the United Nations and many human rights organisations for their immediate release.

In Iraq on 22 March 2014, journalist, human rights defender, and director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberté (RFE/RL's) Radio Free Iraq Mohammed Bedaiwi was killed reportedly by an Officer of the Presidential Regiment on his way to work in Baghdad. On 5 November 2013, journalist and human rights defender Kawa Kermyani, was assassinated in the town of Kelar in the province of Sulaymaniyah.

In the UAE human rights activists and on-line bloggers continue to be targeted. Many of the UAE 94, arrested following a broad crackdown on freedom of expression and opinion, remain in jail. On 18 November 2013, on-line blogger Waleed Al-Shehhi was sentenced to 2 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 AED (136,000 US$) under articles 28 and 29 of the new Cyber Crimes Law. On 17 March 2014, 25-year-old Osama Al-Najjar was arrested and tortured following on-line posts he made on Twitter. Both men remain in detention.

In Oman human rights defenders have been forced to leave the country due to continued harassment by the authorities as a consequence of their on-line postings. They have received threats of judicial proceedings and being subjected to arrests in addition to interrogations and have had their families threatened for the simple exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

These are just some examples of the background in which journalists and other human rights defenders continue to work in most of the Gulf countries.

 The GCHR expresses deep concern for the situation of journalists and all those in the Gulf region who attempt to legitimately and peacefully voice their opinion, call attention to human rights issues and exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression. The role of the media and the accurate reporting of events and human rights violations is key to guarding against impunity and to promote and protect human rights. The GCHR takes this opportunity to commend the important work of all those who raise their voices in defence and promotion of human rights and calls on all authorities in the Gulf Region to ensure that these rights are respected and that human rights defenders are free to carry out their peaceful work without fear of reprisals.