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Syria: 14 human rights defenders arbitrarily arrested and taken to an unknown location
On 16 February 2012, 14 human rights defenders were arrested at the offices of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in Damascus. SCM is a non-governmental organisation that monitors threats to freedom of expression in Syria. The human rights defenders arrested are Mr Mazen Darwish, SCM Director; his wife Ms Yara Badr; blogger Ms Razan Ghazzawi, as well as SCM staff members, journalists and human rights defenders Mr Hussayn Gharir, Mr Hani Zaytani, Ms Sanaa Zaytani, Ms Rita Dayoub, Mr Jaunne Farso, Ms Hanadi Zahlout, Mr Bassam Al Ahmad, Ms Mayyada Al Khalil, Ms Maha Al Seblani, Mr Abdelrahman Hamada and Mr Mansour Hamide. In November 2011 Mazen Darwish received the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award for 2011 as founder of the SCM.
On 16 February 2012, early afternoon, a group of security officers entered the offices of SCM located in Saba' Bahrat, in the centre of Damascus and arrested all those who were present. The security officers closed the office and blindfolded the human rights defenders before taking them to an undisclosed location. Further details regarding their arrests and their current whereabouts are unknown at present. Only Ms Maha Al Seblani was released the same day.
News of their arrests comes in the context of ongoing repression of human rights defenders in Syria since mid-March 2011. Human rights defenders in Syria continue to be subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention and ill-treatment.
In December 2011 blogger Razan Ghazzawi, who is of dual Syrian and US nationality, was arrested at the Syrian and Jordanian border and held in detention for two weeks before being released on bail. She was charged of “weakening national sentiment”, belonging to an organisation “intended to change the social and economic status of the state” and “fomenting racial and sectarian strife”. In March 2011 Mazen Darwish was arrested and detained briefly before being released on the same day.
Front Line Defenders expresses deep concern for the physical and psychological integrity of aforementioned human rights defenders. Front Line Defenders believes that their arrests and detentions are solely related to their human rights work and their work in defence of freedom of expression in Syria.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Syria to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr Mazen Darwish, Ms Yara Badr, Ms Razan Ghazzawi, Mr Hussayn Gharir, Mr Hani Zaytani, Ms Sanaa Zaytani, Ms Rita Dayoub, Mr Jaunne Farso, Ms Hanadi Zahlout, Mr Bassam Al Ahmad, Ms Mayyada Al Khalil, Ms Maha Al Seblani, Mr Abdelrahman Hamada and Mr Mansour Hamide, as it is believed that their arrest and detention are solely related to their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights; 2. Disclose the whereabouts of the 14 aforementioned human rights defenders and grant them immediate access to their families and lawyers; 3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee their physical and psychological integrity and security; 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.