On February 16th, even as the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to endorse an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Syrian armed forces raided the Damascus offices of the Syria Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, or SCM. They confiscated documents and various equipment, including computers, and arrested 16 journalists, bloggers, and press freedom activists associated with SCM.
Two days later, the seven female detainees were released, but nine men, including SCM president Mazen Darwish, remain in custody.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, SCM has played a key role in getting out information about daily developments in Syria, as foreign journalists are virtually banned from the country.
It is the country’s only Non-Governmental Organization specializing in media issues, Internet access and media monitoring during election campaigns. In July of last year, SCM was accorded consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and in October, SCM President Darwish received the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award.
“Seven months ago, I was proud to welcome the decision by the UN Economic and Social Council to grant special consultative status to the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression,” said U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
“This staunch defender of human rights, the first Syria-based NGO ever to be welcomed through the doors of the United Nations, was honored for championing freedom of expression and advancing political solutions over violence as a means to end the suffering of the Syrian people.
“Today, the organization’s director, Mazen Darwish, is under arrest. Seven more SCM administrators and staff are likewise detained by Syrian forces, without warrant and without cause. Their detention lays bare the hypocrisy of the Syrian government, which claims to want dialogue with the political opposition at the same time as Assad’s thugs arrest and kill those who dare oppose it,” she said.
“The United States condemns the imprisonment of Darwish, the SCM staff, and thousands more who have been detained arbitrarily in Syria, and calls for their immediate release.”