In the run-up to World Press Freedom Day, the Department of State highlighted the cases of several journalists around the world who are being silenced because they exercised their fundamental right to free expression and spoke truth to power.
From Syria, the State Department cited the imprisonment of three important human rights and free expression activists who remain imprisoned by the brutal regime of President Bashar al Assad – Mazen Darwish, Hani Zitani and Hussein Ghareer.
Mazen Darwish is the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, a non-governmental organization he founded that specializes in promoting freedom of expression and that also played a key role in disseminating information about daily developments in Syria, including the atrocities committed by the Assad regime. Mr. Darwish and his two colleagues were arrested at their office by regime security forces in February 2012. The three men were held for two years without charge and an additional year without trial after charges were filed. Their trial on the spurious charge of “promoting terrorist acts” has been postponed 22 times.
The prison conditions in Syria are abominable, with torture and abuse rampant in regime-run detention centers, as has been well documented, including by the 55,000 photographs smuggled out of the country in 2013 by a former Syrian army photographer, who goes by the alias “Caesar.”
U.S. State Department Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf called for the immediate release of Mazen Darwish, Hani Zitani, and Hussein Ghareer “arrested and… detained for exercising their human rights.” She also called on the Assad regime “to release all arbitrarily detained journalists and political prisoners who are currently suffering horrific conditions and are at risk of abuse and torture in the prisons.”