December 14, 2011
President of the
Syrian Arab Republic
Via facsimile: +963
11 332 3410
Dear President Assad:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to
bring to your attention disturbing reports of journalists being arrested and
subjected to abuse in Syrian prisons. In the past 10 months, CPJ has documented
29 cases of journalists who were arrested for their work and nine cases of
foreign journalists who have been expelled from Syria since March. We have also
documented nine cases of journalists who are currently in prison.
Mr. President, you approved the media
law that passed in August that was intended to ease restrictions on
journalists and ban their arrests, yet authorities continue to routinely detain journalists without charge. A number
of journalists have been detained in your country without any information given
on their whereabouts or health conditions, CPJ research shows. After being held
under duress for extended periods, some were released without charge. We have
confirmed that at least nine journalists are in prison, and are listing their
names in a separate document for your review. We call on you to disclose the
names of all imprisoned journalists in Syria and any crimes they may be charged
with, along with their health status and whereabouts. We further call on you to
bring to an end the harassment and intimidation of journalists in your country.
We remind you of your acceptance of the Arab
League's proposal in November in which you said you would allow international
journalists access to your country and domestic media to report freely. We call
on you to implement this measure immediately.
We also ask you to ensure that a credible
investigation takes place into the death of cameraman Ferzat
Jarban who was killed and mutilated in Homs in November. Jarban is the
first journalist to be killed in Syria
since CPJ started documenting journalist fatalities in 1992.
We urge you to end the harassment and intimidation
of journalists in your country, and we reiterate our call for you to disclose the
names, health status, and location of all the journalists in prison in Syria.
Thank for your attention to these important matters.
We look forward to your response.
Journalists in Syrian
In December 2009, journalist Tal al-Mallohi was
imprisoned after being summoned for questioning by security officials. In
February, a state security court sentenced her to five years in prison on a
fabricated charge of "disclosing information to a foreign country that must
remain a secret for national safety."
Mohamed-Jamal al-Tahan, editor and writer for the
state-owned daily Tishreen, was
arrested in July from his home in Aleppo. He had written in support of the
country's popular uprising, news reports said. His whereabouts, well-being, and
legal status remain unknown. In November, regional news media said they had
received unconfirmed but credible reports that al-Tahan may have died in
detention. CPJ could not independently corroborate those reports.
Freelance cameraman Tariq Saeed Balsha was
arrested in August in the coastal city of Latakia three days after he reported
on government troops opening fire at Al-Raml refugee camp, according to news
reports. No charges against him have yet been disclosed.
Freelance journalist Adel Walid Kharsa was
arrested in August in connection with his coverage of the protests in Hama,
according to news reports. His whereabouts, well-being, and legal status are
unknown, but Amnesty International said it was concerned he may have been
tortured in detention.
Amer Matar, a freelance journalist and contributor
to the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, was arrested in Damascus in September
after covering protests, CPJ research showed. Authorities did not disclose any
formal charges or trial proceedings.
Freelance journalist Jihad Jamal was arrested at a
Damascus café in October along with Sean McAllister, a British reporter working
for Channel 4. McAllister, who was released after six days, said he last saw
Jamal blindfolded and on his knees in an interrogation room in an unmarked
building in central Damascus, according to Channel 4. No charges have yet been
Alaa al-Khodr, director for the official Syrian
Arab News Agency in the eastern city of Deir Al-Zour, was arrested in November,
according to news reports. On the day of his arrest, al-Khodr had resigned from
his post to protest "the regime's human rights violations against civilians,"
Agence France-Presse reported. Al-Khodr's whereabouts, well-being, and legal
status remain unknown.
Razan Ghazzawi, a journalist and press freedom
campaigner, was arrested
by the Syrian border police while she was en route to a press freedom
conference in Amman on December 4. Over the past 10 months, the U.S.-born
journalist has covered the detention of bloggers and writers in Syria. News
that Ghazzawi--charged on Monday with "weakening national sentiment,"
"trying to incite sectarian strife," and "spreading false information"--could
face up to 15 years in prison. Her lawyers denied all charges at the court
hearing, according to her employer, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of
On December 8, filmmaker and freelance photographer
Guevara Nemer was arrested en route to the Dubai Film Festival, according to news
reports. She was previously arrested on July 13 but later released on bail
on charges of "unauthorized demonstration," "incitement and provocation to
riot," according to local press freedom groups.