Syria Activists Face 'Terror' Charges

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The Syrian authorities must drop all charges against prominent peace activist Mazen Darwish and two of his colleagues, 19 human rights organisations said on Friday.

Darwish, Hussein Gharir and Hani Zaitani "are facing trial on terrorism charges for their peaceful activism", said the groups, including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International.

The trio and two other colleagues were conditionally released in February but are scheduled to appear on May 19 before the Damascus Anti-Terrorism Court, the groups said.

"The Syrian government should not use its overbroad terrorism law to punish peaceful activists for their legitimate work," said the watchdogs, in a joint statement.

"Further, their trial should not be held in the Anti-Terrorism Court, which does not afford defendants basic due process rights according to international fair trial standards," they added.

Darwish and his colleagues from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression were detained more than a year ago.

Their workplace was raided and they have since been held incommunicado, rights groups say.

The United States on Friday said it "was deeply concerned about" Darwish's well-being.

"We feel this is clearly part of the regime's continued attempt to repress freedom of expression and silence those who peacefully advocate for democracy and human rights," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

The indictment "accuses them of 'publicizing terrorist acts' under article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, enacted by President Bashar Assad in 2012.

If convicted the men may be imprisoned for up to 15 years," the rights groups' statement said.

Their trial "illustrates the government's repression against critical voices in Syria and fits in a wider pattern of systematic censorship and repression," it added.

Tens of thousands of people have been detained over the course of the anti-Assad revolt, which began more than two years ago with peaceful protests but quickly evolved into an armed conflict.

Rights groups have frequently accused the authorities of making arbitrary arrests, enforced "disappearances" and torturing political detainees.

Comments 2
Missing 17 May 2013, 18:07

Democracy at work.

Default-user-icon Darwish (Guest) 17 May 2013, 19:04

This is exactly the issue in governments like the one in Syria, the same laws that apply to extremists armed groups, are applied to oppisition figures. The gov used to please the west with these rules that were efficient to control radical groups but as it is doing that, it also throws in the same bag any intellectual or political opposition... The gov succeeded with this method for many years... And now in this savage war, the gov propaganda is labeled terrorism for radical armed groups (i.e: Islamists militants) and make the political and intellectual opposition part of this propaganda...