Reporters Without Borders said it welcomes Monday’s ruling by an anti-terrorism court in Damascus that Mazen Darwish and four members of his staff at the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) are covered by a political amnesty issued in June 2014.
“We are relieved to learn that the trial of Mazen Darwish and his colleagues has ended with their unconditional release under this amnesty,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“These journalists and human rights activists were not guilty of any crime and paid the high price of more than three years in prison for legitimate activities. The decision to apply the 2014 amnesty to their case is good news although long overdue. We ask the authorities to free all the journalists who are unjustly detained in Syria.”
Darwish was awarded the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize in 2013 and was on the Reporters Without Borders list of “100 Information Heroes.” He and his colleagues were facing up to 15 years in prison under article 8 of the 2012 anti-terrorism law on a charge of “publishing information about terrorists acts.”
Two of the five defendants were released provisionally in February 2013, while Darwish and the other two, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghreer, had been granted a provisional release in the past six weeks – Zitani and Ghreer in mid-July and Darwish, who was being held by a different security department, on 10 August.
All of them should have been included in the June 2014 general political amnesty, which authorized the release of all activists arbitrarily held in connection with legitimate activities. The amnesty, legislative decree No. 22 of 9 June 2014, covered the charge on which Darwish and his SCM colleagues were held.
According to our sources, the decision will take official effect on 16 September after the final wording has been drafted. It has to take account of the fact that Zitani and Ghreer were not present at the trial.
According to a Reporters Without Borders tally, at least 30 journalists and online information activists continue to be held by the Syrian government while at least 25 others (including six foreigners) are either missing or being held hostage by Islamic State or other armed extremist groups.
Ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Syria is the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.