#Human Rights
Syrian Government, President Assad, Ban Ki-Moon, Arab League, UNHCHR, EU, Amnesty International

"I have learnt that the road to democracy is as far from the path of extremism and terrorism as it is from dictatorships and tyranny. May be, that the situation went in Syria worse than our worst nightmares, but can we give up the right to change our reality or our legitimate ambitions to freedom, because those mottos were used as a ride for tyrannical authoritarian regimes and violent Takfiri movements? Do we have to chew the cud of our experiences in the Arab world time af…ter time for each, time tyranny and corruption married, they only beget extremism, violence and terrorism.....One one one.... Syrian nation is one.... Syrian blood is one..... Syrian future is one." ~Mazen Darwish, writing from prison upon his receipt of the 2013 Bruno Kreisky Award.

UPDATE JUNE 26, 2013--Mazen Darwish is a Syrian lawyer and free speech advocate. He is the president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (CMFE) News organizations including Reuters and the Associated Press have described him as one of Syria's most prominent activists.

Darwish was arrested on 16 February 2012 by men believed to be from the intelligence arm of the Syrian Air Force. Fifteen other journalists and activists were arrested on the same day, including blogger Razan Ghazzawi and Darwish's wife, journalist Yara Badr While Badr was released in May, Darwish was subject to forced disappearance with no official statements of his whereabouts or status. The Switzerland-based International Commission of Jurists reported in August that Darwish was being tried before a secret military court and could face a death sentence with no appeal.
Also imprisoned are Student Activist Hussein Gharir and University Instructor Hani Zaitan.

Full Text of Mr. Darwish's Acceptance Speech:

Esteemed Bruno Kreisky Foundation Board and staff..

Ladies and Gentlemen..

First, I would like to thank you all for coming today and for honoring me with this award that holds the name of Bruno Kreisky; the emblem, this award which persons like Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto and Lula da Silva has preceded me to it.

Though, there is no greater happiness for a prisoner than of the feeling that the outer world is remembering him, but before the devastation and the bloodshed that engulfed my homeland, the feeling of happiness becomes a kind of luxury that I am ashamed to have it.

Ladies and gentlemen..

I would to like to make a confession to you:

I always looked with wonder to Mr. Kreisky asking myself why a firm fighter and a statesman pushed his nation to permanent neutrality leaving voluntarily the ecstasy of victory and the joy of winning, till I have realized that there is no winner in wars, everybody is a loser, and there is nothing good in war except its ending.

From Baghdad to Budapest, Lebanon to Prague and from Vietnam to the two Koreas, I have learnt that there is nothing good in war except its ending, and from the victims of wars to the victims of racial indiscrimination in South Africa, to Rwanda and Bosnia to the victims of tyranny in our Arab world and Franco and Pinochet and the Greek colonels, I have learnt that the road to democracy is as far from the path of extremism and terrorism as it is from dictatorships and tyranny.

Ladies and gentlemen..

May be, that the situation went in Syria worse than our worst nightmares, but can we give up the right to change our reality or our legitimate ambitions to freedom, dignity and citizenship or our duty to reduce inequality and providing more freedom to our societies, because those mottos were used as a ride for tyrannical authoritarian regimes and violent Takfiri movements?

Do we have to chew the cud of our experiences in the Arab world time after time for each, time tyranny and corruption married, they only beget extremism, violence and terrorism.

Yes .. we want freedom and dignity and justice and yes we deserve it, but it surly is not the freedom of dying under torture or slaughtered, it is not to be killed by a shell from a jet or a by car bomb, it is the freedom of life on the basis of sharing and coalition between the universality of human rights values and the privacy of local social relations in order to reshape global human sphere that makes the life itself a moral human experience and we look at it as more owned by others than us.

Ladies and gentlemen

I wish I could address so many people by their names through your rostrum if time allows, but they are much more than time and far from the words to describe.

I want to address my colleagues who went with me to detention and to those who were lucky enough not get detained:

I am honored that I worked with you and touched your dreams and sorrows.

My friends who amaze me with their loyalty and adherence to what we believed in:

Do not lose your faith even those who do not have the bricks to build threw the sin at you.

My wonderful family.. thank you for your patience, love and support for all these hard years:

Nothing seems meaningful without your presence.

Jailers who assume their responsibility to discipline me for ten months, and especially to those who disciplined in the first days of Eid al-Adha :

I feel sorry for all of us and I wish a happy life for your children with no fear or torture but with festivals that are full of joy and love shared with my two children Inana and Adad.

Ladies and gentlemen

In the swirl of the crazy violence, I lost so much of my beloved, they were killed, detained, wounded, kidnapped, homeless like my colleague Dr. Ayham Ghazoul and the friend "Hasan Ahmad Azhary", my cousin first lieutenant Ali Darwish, my brother Sami Akel and my friend Khalil Matouk:

To them and to their families .. I bow

I strangled my tears because it is lesser than your sorrows, and I released my voice for you to get out to the sun hand in hand crying once again:

One one one
Syrian nation is one
Syrian blood is one
Syrian future is one

Mazen Darwish

10th June 2013



Syrians who have protested peacefully and spoken out against the brutal state machine are paying a high price for demanding freedom, writes an exiled human rights activist

As horrific events unfold in Syria, I think of Mazen Darwish and my other colleagues and what they might be working on had they not been in secret detention. Mazen would probably still be verifying videos, interviewing witnesses and sending out news releases in defence of arbitrarily detained activists. As the world watches people getting killed, and the brutality in Syria reaches new heights, I find myself missing his voice and principled approach more than ever.

I was the lucky one who was released on bail after a year of torture. But while we await the trial that I and other colleagues from the Syria Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression are facing, I know that Mazen and the others with him in secret detention would want me to be strong, and to keep telling the world about what Syrian human rights defenders endure in defence of those rights. When the Syrian security services descended on us, that February morning of 2012 in Damascus, we knew we would pay a high price for daring to exercise our right to protest peacefully, to organise, to speak out. We knew we were dealing with a ruthless, brutal state machine that did not tolerate dissent. We knew our work might cost us our lives.

And the price has been steep. In my 356 days of detention in an underground holding cell, I repeated like a mantra "freedom of expression, freedom of association" while security forces in the Syrian Army's Fourth Division detention facility in Mezze Damascus attempted to break my bones and crush my dreams. "Is this the freedom you want," they snorted at me while I tried to shield my head from their kicks. I raised my voice in my own head to try to cover the noises I was made to hear: cries of fellow detainees being tortured sometimes to death, being stripped out of their skin while their lives were being stripped out of them.

I wanted to survive. I wanted to look the world in the eye and say: we Syrians deserve to live as citizens. We have a right to gather, demonstrate, write freely, and hold our leaders accountable for breaking their contract with us, with humanity. I was eventually released. But they kept Mazen and our other colleagues Hussein Gharir and Hani Zaitan. Not a day goes by without me thinking of all three of them curled up in their damp cells, losing weight but not losing faith. I can still hear their voices, I can almost see them all sitting behind their computer screens, while the sun plays a game of hide and seek on that cold Damascus February day. I hold on to these memories of our office, full of life, hope, and a sense of urgency, as we documented abuses, informed the world about them, and stood up for our beliefs.

Our trial was to resume on June 26 and now has been postponed until late August. On that day, I will be with Mazen, Hussein, Hani, and Abdel Rahman Hamada, our other colleague still in Syria, in spirit in the Damascus courtroom where we will all be tried under the anti-terrorism law passed in July 2012 for "publicising terrorist acts". What is our crime? The publication of studies on the human rights and media situation in Syria, documenting the names of the detained, disappeared, wanted and killed within the context of the Syrian conflict, and receiving funding from western organisations? I still would like someone to explain to me how we qualify as terrorists. I would like to make sense of why we face up to 15 years in prison, with hard labour, for the legitimate work of documenting abuses and attempting to redress them.

While world leaders give statements about possible peace negotiations and plan a second round of Geneva talks, tens of thousands of Syrians remain detained in secret locations and inhumane conditions, subjected to torture because of their peaceful activism. As the crisis in Syria becomes more militarised, I know my colleagues would want me to remind the world that this whole affair started when peaceful Syrian activists felt it was time for the country to break with long decades of oppression and embrace a new era of freedom of expression and political participation. So to answer the question of those officers who tried to break my knees: no, this is not the freedom we want. What we are looking for is yet to come. When people like them, abusive officers, stand in courts to face charges of crimes against humanity.

And we will better them. We will not torture, disappear, kill, terrorise, and humiliate them. We will treat them with more humanity than they have shown us. We will teach them justice. Only then will I be able to answer: yes this is the freedom we want, this is the freedom we were ready to die for. This is the freedom of our colleague and friend Ayham Ghazoul who died while in detention. It might not be a coincidence then that our trial is to happen on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It might be just the right message we want to send the world: we are being tortured for daring to speak out.
Read more: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/3652/syrians-tortured-for-daring-to-speak-out#ixzz2Xe2l9csR

FROM 2012--In a new escalation against freedom of expression and media work in Syria, the Office of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in Damascus was raided on Thursday 16 February at approximately one and a half PM by agents of the Air Intelligence Intelligence (Mazzeh branch).

The raid, that was carried out by members of the security apparatus along with a group of armed men, who caused panic and fear among employees and visitors of the center, especially since the officer in charge did not disclose the arrest or search warrants that are supposed to be issued by a public prosecutor.

The security forces took the IDs of SCM employees and visitors in addition to their mobile phones. They were prevented from proceeding their work and were asked to gather in one room until 4 PM; they were transferred to the Air force Intelligence detention center of Mazzeh then.

Following are the names of staff and administrators who have been arrested that day:

1 - Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of expression.

2 - Yara Badr, Syrian journalist and the wife of Mazen Darwish.

3 - Hani Zitani, a graduate of the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Sociology and university teacher.

4 - Sana Zitani, a graduate of the Faculty of Sociology and wife Hani Zitani.

5 - Abdel Rahman Hamada, student at the Institute of Accounting.

6 - Hussein Gharir, graduate at the Faculty of Information Engineering.

7 - Mansour Al Omari, English literature graduate from Damascus University.

8 - Joan Fersso, a graduate of the Faculty of Arabic literature.

9 - Mayada Khalil, graduate at the University of archaeology in Aleppo.

10 – Ayham Ghazoul, a dentist.

11 - Bassam Al-Ahmed, a graduate of the Faculty of Arabic literature.

12 - Razan Ghazzawi, a graduate in English literature.

13 - Rita Dayoub.

Two visitors were also arrested; Shady Yazbek (student in medicine) and Hanadi Zahlout.

Female employees working at the center were released on Saturday 18 Feb 2012 around 10 PM (Yara Badr - Sanaa Mohsen - Mayada Khalil - Razan Ghazzawi) in addition to the visitor Hanadi Zahlout on one condition that at they are to show up at Air force Security every day from 9AM to 2PM for further investigation until unspecified date. Rita Dayoub was released.

The arrest of the President of the SCM, "Mazen Darwish," and male colleagues and visitor, however, continues: Hani Zitani - Abdel Rahman Hamada - Hussein Ghrer - Mansur Al Omari - Bassam Al-Ahmad -Ayham Ghazoul - Joan Fersso, and the visitor Shady Yazbek are still in custody.

Mazen Darwish was born in 1974 and graduated from Law School at Damascus University in 1998. A couple of years later he already began to advocate human rights and freedom of speech in particular by helping to establish the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedom and Human Rights (CDF) with a group of Syrian activists.

His fight for freedom of expression intensified in 2004, when he said, “there are no prisons to accommodate free speech” and claimed, “we cannot wait another 40 years”. Darwish then founded the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the first non-profit organisation advocating human rights and defending freedom of speech in Syria. His aim was to highlight and spread freedom of opinion and expression, belief, variety and tolerance within the Syrian society, while promoting the work of journalists and defenders of these freedoms.

Providing legal and technical support to journalists and activists, as well as researching and publishing reports and around 10 studies on human rights abuses has put the SCM on the Syrian government´s watch list. Since its foundation the SCM´s members were subject to harassment, Darwish arrested and beaten several times. The authorities finally shut down the Centre´s offices in 2009.

Darwish and the SCM´s members continued their work undercover and have been one of the most important contributors to the fight for human rights in Syria though living in constant fear and facing enormous difficulties. In 2011 the SCM was granted “Consultative Status” by the UN´s Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC.

UPDATE JUNE 9, 2012: Reports Without Borders has issued the following statement:
"According to our sources, he has been badly tortured in detention. We have good reason to think his life is in danger because he suffers from serious ailments and his condition could worsen rapidly if he is not getting the treatment he needs. The Syrian authorities refuse to say where he is being held. He is not being allowed access to his family or lawyers, in complete violation of international law. So far, no charges have been brought against him.

Darwish is in grave danger. The authorities arrested him in order to silence him, because he was telling the outside world about acts of violence by a regime that persists in its deadly folly. A staunch defender of human rights and freedom of expression, Darwish played a key role in providing daily information about the situation in Syria, at a time when almost all foreign journalists are banned from visiting the country.

Without the courage of Syrian journalists and bloggers, no freely reported news and information would be available."

We the undersigned strongly condemn the Syrian regime's outrageous and illegal imprisonment of human rights activists affiliated with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, which enjoys UN ECOSOC consultative status.

We therefore demand that all levels of the international community bring any and all pressure to bear upon the Baathist regime of Bashar al -Assad to immediately and condintionally release Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir, Hani Zaitan and all other imprisoned journalists and human rights activists in Syria.

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The Free Syrian Journalist Mazen Darwish And Activists Hussein Gharir and Hani Zaitan petition to Syrian Government, President Assad, Ban Ki-Moon, Arab League, UNHCHR, EU, Amnesty International was written by John S. Burke and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.