Syria: UN Working Group Declares Detention of Prominent Human Rights Defenders Illegal

Urgent Appeal
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Alerted by Syrian and international human rights organisations, the United Nation’s expert body on the issue of arbitrary detention has found the detention of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al Zaitani and Hussein Ghrer arbitrary and calls for their release. The three men currently stand trial before an exceptional court in Damascus, the Anti-Terrorism Court, for charges related to their work with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), a Syrian NGO working for the promotion and protection of human rights.

I hope that this renewed condemnation of the arbitrary detention of my husband and his colleagues will be taken into consideration by the judges in Damascus at the next hearing on January 27, 2014 and result in their release”, says Yara Bader, wife of Mazen Darwish and acting Director of the SCM.

We recall that Mazen Darwish, the founder and Director of SCM, as well as Hani Al Zaitani and Hussein Ghrer, both members of SCM, were arrested by members of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence during a raid on SCM offices in Damascus on February 16, 2012. For the nine months following their arrest, they were detained without access to the outside world. No lawyer or relative was able to speak to them and their detention was kept in secret.

In November 2012, the three men were finally brought to Damascus Central Prison in Adra, where they remain to date, and received a first visit by their relatives. Shortly before this transfer, they had been informed of their upcoming trial before the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus, an instance known for its disrespect of fair trial standards.

Since then, the men were brought before the Anti-Terrorism Court for hearings on several occasions, but the proceedings were time and again postponed, also due to the absence of cooperation on the side of the Air Force Intelligence, which had been requested to provide evidence to the Prosecution. All three of them stated that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in custody but the judges have so far failed to open investigations into these allegations as is their obligation under international law.

These and other facts were examined by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its Opinion No. 43/2013, on the basis of information provided by, amongst others, FIDH and OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. After noting that the Syrian authorities did not contest the information presented to it, “the Working Group considers that the applicants [Darwish, Al Zaitani and Ghrer], human rights defenders, have been deprived of liberty due to their human rights activities”. The experts add that the men’s arrest was due to the exercise of their right to freedom of expression and finally affirm “that the non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial (...) in this case is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty (...) an arbitrary character”.

“The Working Group believes that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the adequate remedy would be to release Messrs. Mazen Darwish, Mohamed Hani Al Zaitani, Hussein Hammad Ghrer and accord them an enforceable right to compensation (...)”.

We take this as an occasion to reiterate our call for the unconditional and immediate release of Mazen Darwish, Hani Al Zaitani and Hussein Ghrer as well as all other human rights defenders detained in Syria in violation of their fundamental rights.

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