Syrian regime releases prominent rights activist from prison

Syrian regime releases prominent rights activist from prison
Syrian authorities on Monday released Mazen Darwish, a prominent human rights activist who spent more than three years in prison for reporting on the government's crackdown on protesters, activists said.
3 min read
10 August, 2015
Mazin Darwish was jailed for reporting on the government's crackdown on protesters [Getty]

Prominent Syrian rights defender Mazen Darwish has been released after more than three years in a Syrian prison pending a verdict in his case later this month, his wife told AFP Monday.

"He has been freed ahead of a final verdict in his case on August 21," Darwish's wife Yara Bader said.

"Free man"

The leading journalist and rights activist was arrested in February 2012 along with two colleagues from his Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.

"Mazen Darwish is free today, 10 August 2015, after arbitary arrest which lasted 3 years 5 months 24 days," the group said on their Facebook page.

"He is still awaiting trial and the hearing is on 31 August 2015 when the verdict will be announced."

The three were accused of "promoting terrorist acts" and held despite repeated calls from media and rights groups for their release.

They were moved between prisons several times, and court dates in their case were regularly postponed.

Darwish's colleagues Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani were released last month in an amnesty announced as a gesture for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Bader said Darwish was supposed to benefit from the same amnesty, but his release was delayed.

Darwish has received multiple awards in acknowledgement of his work, including, in May, UNESCO's annual press freedom prize.

Amnesty International has been campaigning for Darwish's release.

"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 a half years of anguish uncertainty," commented Said Boumedouha, acting director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"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."


His wife accepted the award on his behalf, saying it was dedicated to his children in the hope they would grow up in a free Syria.

"We need a time to learn how to listen to people who have different opinions," she said.

"Mazen has already forgiven those who tortured him almost to death."

Some 200,000 people are held in Syrian government detention centres, prisons and security facilities, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Last year, President Bashar al-Assad signed an amnesty that was supposed to see tens of thousands of political prisoners freed, but rights activists say only several hundred were actually released.

Rights organisations and the United Nations have said torture is practised systematically in Syrian prisons, and photos purportedly taken inside the country's detention facilities have documented appalling abuses.

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests inspired by similar uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East.

But after a government crackdown, the demonstrations spiralled into a violent conflict that has killed more than 240,000 people.