Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Yara Michel Shammas was freed on bail today although this young woman is still facing charges that carry the death penalty. The press freedom organization urges the authorities to drop all the charges.
Dozens of other journalists and netizens are still languishing in Syrian jails. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for their immediate release and the withdrawal of all the charges brought against them.
27.04.2012 - Young woman activist Yara Shammas facing possible death sentence
As United Nations observers try to carry out their mission with considerable difficulty, Reporters Without Borders would like to draw attention to the Assad regime’s many violations of freedom of information, which include jailing those who have the courage to inform us about the situation in Syria.
“We call for the immediate release of all the professional journalists, citizen journalists and netizens jailed by the regime,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Syrian authorities have undertaken to carry out Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which envisages the release of all prisoners of conscience. It is high time the authorities kept their promises.”
Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about the fate of Yara Michel Shammas, 21, who was arrested with 11 other activists in a café in the old part of Damascus on 7 March and was transferred to a prison in Homs. Nine new charges were brought against her on 22 April, including one under article 298 of the criminal code which carries the death penalty.
Article 298 says: “A life sentence of forced labour will be passed on anyone committing an act that aims to cause a civil war or communal strife by arming Syrian citizens or inciting them to take up arms against each other, or to incite a massacre or looting in one or more localities. If this act achieves its aim, the guilty party will be sentenced to death.”
An information technology specialist, Shammas is the daughter of Michel Shammas, a well-known human rights lawyer active on Facebook. Anwar Al-Bonni, the head of the Syrian Centre for Legal Study and Research, said “what is happening to Yara Michel Shammas is clearly a way of putting pressure on the lawyer Shammas.”
Reporters Without Borders continues to be very concerned about Ali Mahmoud Othman, a Homs-based citizen journalist and resistance figure, who was arrested in Aleppo on 28 March. According to a recently released activist, he is still alive but is now being held by the intelligence services in Damascus and is being subjected to appalling forms of torture.
The press freedom organization is also very concerned about Noura Al-Jizawi, an activist who was also arrested on 28 March in Damascus. She is a member of the Syrian Revolution General Commission (an opposition coalition) and Flash News Network, and worked with the Syrian revolutionary newspaper Hurriyat.
There is still no news of two Turkish journalists – Adem Özköse, a reporter for the magazine Gerçek Hayat and the daily Milat, and cameraman Hamit Coşkun – who were abducted by Shabiha militiamen near the northwestern city of Idlib on 10 March and then handed over to members of the Syrian intelligence services.
Seven detained members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and a visitor to the centre who was arrested with them on 16 February, were told on 22 April that they are to be tried by a military court on a charge of “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them,” which carries a possible six-month jail sentence.
The eight detainees – Yara Badr, Razan Ghazzawi, Hanadi Zahlout, Sana Zetani, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Ayham Ghazzoul and Mayadah Khaleel – are currently being held in Damascus’ Adra prison.
The other five SCM members who were arrested on 16 February – Mazen Darwish (the centre’s founder and president), Hussein Ghareer, Hani Zetani, Mansour Al-Omari and Abdelrahman Hamada – continue to be held incommunicado.
The following is an incomplete list of the many other journalists and netizens who are detained or missing in Syria:
* Mary Iskander Issa, a journalist who was arrested with her husband Joseph Nakhla, a doctor, in the Damascus suburb of Jermana on 14 April. The security services accuse her husband of treating “terrorists” in their home.
* Assem Hamsho, a freelance journalist arrested in Damascus on 8 April.
* Wassim Zakaria Al-Dahan, a journalist working for the newspaper Qassioun, who was arrested in a Damascus suburb on 26 March.
* Jamal Al-Omar, a blogger arrested at the Lebanese border on 15 March. He is currently believed to be in Damascus’ Adra prison.
* Jehad Jamal, a blogger arrested with Yara Michel Shammas on 7 March in Damascus.
* Deyaa Labdalla, a blogger arrested in Suweida on 13 February for sending an open letter to President Assad.
* Said Fahd Dairky, an engineer with the national television station who was arrested on 14 January for broadcasting video footage clearly showing that a pro-government demonstration had many fewer participants than the official media claimed.
* Muhammed Omar Al-Khatib, a journalist who was arrested on the outskirts of Damascus on 8 January after sustaining a gunshot injury. He worked for the business and local news sections of the newspaper Al-Watan.
* Moheeb Al-Nawaty, a Palestinian journalist who was reported missing on 5 January, a few days after arriving in Damascus.
* Muhammed Nizzar Al-Baba, a cyber-activist who was arrested on 5 December 2011 after being summoned by the security services.
* Alaa Khodr, a journalist who was arrested in Deir Ezzor on 18 November 2011. He worked for the official news agency Sana until fired for publicly criticizing the regime’s treatment of civilians.
* Qais Abazli, a blogger who was arrested near Jisr Al-Shoughour. He created the “Anti-corruption Syrians” blog.
* Alaa Shueiti, a cyber-activist who was arrested in Homs on 15 October 2011.
* Shibal Ibrahim, a journalist and writer who was arrested in Qamishli on 22 September 2011.
* Bilal Ahmad Bilal, a producer who was arrested in the Damascus suburb of Moadamieh on 13 September 2011. He worked for TV new station Falesteen Al-Yom.
* Hussein Issou, a journalist and writer who was arrested in Al-Hasakah on 3 September 2011. His family has not had any word of him.
* Miral Biroreda, an activist, writer and blogger who was arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Al-Hasakah on 26 August 2011. According to the Kurdish Organization for the Defence of Human Rights and Public Freedoms (DAD), he is being tried for participating in demonstrations and writing about the Syrian revolution
* Abdelmajid Rashed Al-Rahmoun, a journalist who was arrested on 23 August in Hama province. He worked for the daily Al-Fidaa.
* Tarek Said Balsha, a citizen journalist who was arrested in Latakiya on 19 August 2011.
* Muhammed Nihad Kurdiyya, an engineer who was arrested in Latakiya on 17 August 2011 as he was about to be interviewed by Al-Jazeera.
* Abdel Walid Kharsah, a reporter who was arrested in Deraa on 17 August 2011 while covering the protest movement.
* Olwan Zouaiter, a journalist who was arrested in Raqqah on 16 March 2011. He was given a five-year jail sentence that was eventually reduced to 13 months.
* Tal Al-Mallouhi, a blogger who was 18 when she was arrested in December 2009. A state security court in Damascus sentenced her to five years in prison on 14 February 2012 on a charge of exchanging “intelligence with a foreign country.”