Urgent Interventions

Ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani

New information
SYR 002 / 0812 / OBS 042.2

Judicial harassment /
Arbitrary detention
July 18, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Syria

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and of his colleagues Messrs. Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani, as well as of the ongoing judicial harassment of two other SCM members, Messrs. Mansur Al-Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada. The next hearing in their case is scheduled for July 21, 2014 before the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus.
According to the information received, on June 26, 2014, a hearing was due to be held before the Anti-Terrorism Court, but the trial was postponed to July 21. To date, Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani remain in custody in Damascus Central Prison in Adra’ on spurious accusations of “publicising terrorist acts”. The indictment lists Mr. Darwish's activities as Director of the SCM, including monitoring online news by the Syrian opposition, publishing studies on the human rights and media situation in Syria, and documenting names of the detained, disappeared, wanted and killed within the context of the Syrian conflict as facts held against him.

The Observatory recalls that the detention and harassment of Mr. Darwish and his colleagues result from their exercise of universally recognised human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association which are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20), the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19 and Article 22).

The Observatory particularly deplores that the legislative decree of amnesty no. 22 enacted on June 9, 2014 by the Syrian Government and which could have encompassed activists, media and humanitarian workers charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law was not applied to Mr. Darwish and his colleagues. In addition, during consecutive hearings on May 8, May 19 and June 26, 2014, Mr. Darwish’s lawyer requested his release on bail, which was denied by the court.

The Observatory calls on the Syrian authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to the judicial harassment of Mr. Darwish and his four colleagues, as it aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, as well as to release Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani immediately and unconditionally.

Background information:

On February 16, 2012, the Air Force Intelligence (AFI) raided the SCM premises in Damascus during which they arrested 16 persons, including both visitors and employees, among whom Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer, Abdel Rahman Hamada, Mansour Al-Omari and Hani Al-Zitani. Although some of those arrested were subsequently released under conditions, the Syrian authorities first refused to reveal the whereabouts of eight of those arrested, including Mr. Darwish.

On August 6, 2012, the AFI sent a letter to the Military Justice in Damascus, informing them that the SCM was conducting its activities without any license and that they were preparing for Mr. Mazen Darwish to be transferred to the Field Court, a secret military tribunal that operates in camera, excluding even the detainee's lawyers.

Between his arrest and November 22, 2012, Mr. Darwish was detained at the detention facilities of six different services of investigation with no contact to the outside world in conditions amounting to an enforced disappearance. He was denied access to legal counsel, not informed of the reasons for his detention or the charges held against him and not brought before a competent judicial authority in determination of the legality of his detention for over 9 months, a period widely exceeding the 60 days permitted under Syrian law. Neither Mr. Darwish’s family nor his lawyers were informed of his whereabouts, legal situation, fate or health condition.

During this period, Mr. Darwish was reportedly subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. From the second day of his detention, he was separated from his colleagues and remained in solitary confinement while being handcuffed and blindfolded over prolonged periods of time. These acts along with other acts of torture were carried out with the aim of coercing Mr. Darwish to sign confessions to be held against him in court.

It was only on November 22, 2012 that Mr. Darwish was brought before the Prosecutor of the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus for the first time, together with four of his colleagues, Messrs. Hussein Ghrer, Hani Al-Zitani, Mansur Al-Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada.

The Anti-Terrorism Court was established by presidential decree in 2012 and does not afford any basic due process rights to defendants according to international fair trial standards, including the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, access to legal counsel and guarantees that statements established to have been extracted under torture are not held against them.

None of the above-mentioned defenders were given the possibility to be represented by a lawyer and it was only after their transfer to Damascus Central Prison in Adra’ on November 26, 2012 that they were able to contact their families and lawyers for the first time in more than nine months.

The written indictment dated February 27, 2013 explicitly refers to the defenders’ work to promote and protect human rights, in particular in “stirring the internal situation in Syria and so provoke international organisations to condemn Syria in international fora”, under Article 149 of the Syrian Penal Code and Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. If pronounced guilty under Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, the defenders may be sentenced to three to fifteen years of imprisonment and hard labour.

All defendants raised allegations of torture and revoked statements signed during their detention as having been extracted under torture, but to our knowledge, no investigations into these allegations have been opened.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Syrian authorities, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani, as well as of all human rights defenders in Syria;

ii.Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Al-Zitani since their detention is arbitrary and only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities, as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Syria;

iii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned acts of torture and ill-treatment in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply them penal sanctions;

iv. Put an end to any act of harassment and to any type of proceedings - including at the judicial level before both civil and military courts - against all above-mentioned human rights defenders, and more generally against all human rights defenders in Syria;

v. Grant unhindered access to ICRC observers dispatched within the country to assess the defenders' conditions of detention and health situation;

vi. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as with 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”;

vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Syrian Arab Republic.


· President, Bashar al-Assad, Presidential Palace, al Rashid Street, Damascus, Syria Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 332 3410
· Minister of Defence, General, Fahad Djassim al Freij, Ministry of Defence, O mayyad Square, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 223 7842
· Minister of Justice, Mr. Tayseer Qella Awad, Mazeh “Otstrad”, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 666 2460
· Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wallid Mu’allim, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, al-Rashid Street, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic, Fax: +963 11 332 7620
· Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to UN in Geneva, 72 rue de Lausanne, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 738 42 75, Email:
· Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic in Brussels, 1 avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: +32 2 554 19 22; Fax: +32 2 648 14 85

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of the Syrian Arabic Republic in your respective country.

Paris-Geneva, July 18, 2014

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.