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Syria: UN experts raise alarm over arbitrary detentions and likely use of torture

GENEVA (21 February 2012) – United Nations independent experts condemned the arrest of at least 16 persons, including prominent Syrian human rights figures, and voiced their concern that the individuals may be subjected to torture and ill treatment. It appears their arrests and detention are directly linked to the activities of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in the defence of human rights.

“The Syrian authorities should end all acts of harassment against human rights defenders and release all those arbitrarily arrested and detained,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; freedom of expression, Frank La Rue; torture, Juan Méndez; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 16 February, security forces raided the offices of the SCM, a prominent human rights organization, which enjoys UN consultative status. All persons present in the centre, including its director, Mazen Darwich, blogger Razan Ghazawi, and at least 14 other persons, were reportedly arrested, blindfolded and taken to Al Jawiya in Mezza airport.

“The arrest of these persons, including prominent human rights defenders, is emblematic of an alarming and recurrent pattern of arbitrary detention in Syria since March 2011. Detention without legal basis should never be used as a method of repression,” independent expert Sow said.

Special Rapporteur Sekaggya underscored that States must ensure that no harm comes either physically or mentally to human rights defenders. “The current situation in Syria does not provide a pretext for Governments to harass and arbitrarily detain human rights defenders,” she said. “On the contrary, they play a crucial role in the protection of human rights in high-risk situations. The Government should work with them, not against them.”

Similar concern was expressed by Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue about the arrests of several people, including human rights activists, bloggers and journalists. “Their role is essential in protecting and promoting human rights in the country,” he stressed. “I am concerned that these arrests and detention are related to the SCM’s work on human rights. If so, these persons should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

“I fear that Mr. Mazen Darwich and other persons arrested may be at serious risk of torture or ill treatment,” said Special Rapporteur Méndez. “I am deeply concerned about their physical and mental well-being particularly in the current context of the ongoing violence in Syria.”

The four UN independent human rights experts called on the Syrian authorities to release the individuals immediately. Their arrest came on the same day as the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the violent Government crackdown in Syria.

ENDS

UN Human Rights, country page - Syria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SYIndex.aspx

For more information log on to:
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Ms. Momoko Nomura (+41 22 917 9304 /mnomura@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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