Syria: Syria: Date set for verdict in case of SCM members
On 25 March 2015 a verdict is set to be delivered in the case of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). The SCM is a non-governmental organization working to disseminate information regarding the human rights situation in Syria.
On 5 March 2015, the Anti Terrorism Court in Damascus set 25 March as the date for delivering the verdict in the on-going case of the human rights defenders. The verdict hearing has already been scheduled six times since the trial was opened in February 2013. The Court also ordered the transfer of Mazen Darwish from Hama central prison to Damascus Prison, as well as the transfer of Hani Al-Zitani from Swedaa Central prison to Damascus prison.
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 detained for approximately one year in security branches in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance, where they were subjected to ill treatment and torture.
In February 2013, they were taken before the Anti-Terrorism Court on charges of “publicizing terrorist acts” under Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. Since then, the court has repeatedly postponed their trial. Despite a general amnesty issued on 9 June 2014, that covered the charges against the men, they have not been freed.
On 15 May 2013, a UN General Assembly resolution 67/262 "The Situation in The Syrian Arab Republic" called inter alia for the release of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer. 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. For further information please see previous appeal dated 16 February 2015 (https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/910)
On February 26, 2015 Mazen Darwish was named "World Press Freedom Hero" by the International Press Institute for "his efforts to ensure that the truth of what was happening in his country … was known beyond its borders, and in his willingness to continue speaking out in support of free media from prison, despite the obvious danger to him in doing so".
The GCHR believes that the charges presented to Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer and their on-going detention are solely related to their peaceful and legitimate work in relation to information sharing and in promoting freedom of information and expression.
We urge the authorities in Syria to:
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer, and Hani Al-Zitani and ensure that the case against them is discontinued;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer in addition to all the detained human rights defenders in Syria;
- Immediately implement the UN General Assembly resolution 67/262 ;
- 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.”