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WAN concerned about journalist Nizar Nayouf's safety

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a WAN press release:

Bruges, Belgium, 27 May 2002

Statement on Nizar Nayouf

Nizar Nayouf, the Syrian editor and democracy advocate, was scheduled to appear Sunday morning at a seminar in Bruges, Belgium, during the World Newspaper Congress, but he failed to appear and has not been seen since.

Belgian police have been alerted and have launched an international search. The World Association of Newspapers appeals to anyone with information about his whereabouts to contact the police immediately.

In a statement, WAN said: "we are deeply concerned about Mr Nayouf's safety. According to our information, he left his hotel room, where he was staying with his brother, on Sunday morning to go downstairs for breakfast. When his brother went to join him, he wasn't there. He had not expressed fears for his safety although it is known that he has been threatened and harassed because of his work for press freedom and democracy in Syria."

Mr Nayouf has lived in France since late 2001 following his release from a Syrian jail. He is the 2000 laureate of the Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers. He was in prison when the prize was awarded and he was to have received the award in a ceremony in Bruges on Monday.

Nizar Nayouf was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to ten years in prison for being a member of an unauthorised organisation and for "disseminating false information" via Democracy's Vote, a newsletter for the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria.

He was severely tortured in prison, leaving him partially paralysed and nearly blinded. He also suffered from an array of diseases - lymphatic cancer, liver disease, dermatitis and ulcers. He was finally released in 2001, following a international campaign by WAN and other press freedom groups, and allowed to leave the country.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 71 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 countries, 13 news agencies and seven regional and world-wide press groups.

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