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Disappearances and detentions of journalists reaching "catastrophic" levels

Razan Zaitouneh, who is in hiding after authorities began looking for her because she was documenting human rights violations
Razan Zaitouneh, who is in hiding after authorities began looking for her because she was documenting human rights violations

While the Syrian military regime murdered hundreds of citizens protesting against the dictatorship in recent months, the pattern of disappearances and detentions of journalists has also continued, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to ANHRI, many of those arrested are calling for an end to the illegitimate regime, which has not relented in its violent crackdown since the Arab League's sanctions on 12 November. Members of the Arab League are withdrawing their ambassadors from Syria and suspending Syria from the League. During demonstrations this past week in Syria in favour of the sanctions, the military killed 22 protestors, according to ANHRI.

"The situation in Syria has become catastrophic. Murders of the protesters demanding the ousting of the regime are ongoing. Detentions are increasing day after day. Opinion makers are abducted to unknown destinations," said ANHRI.

Those who went missing in October alone include Lina Ibrahim, a journalist at "Tishreen" newspaper, Wael Youssef Abaza, a freelance correspondent, and bloggers Jehad Jamal and Hussein Garir, the IFEX organisations report.

Just before his disappearance, Garir published a post that said, "Silence won't help us anymore. We do not want a country where we get imprisoned for our speech. We want a country that embraces and welcomes speech," according to ANHRI.

It is not known if those missing are in hiding, dead or detained, as authorities refuse to disclose the names of political prisoners, according to the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM).

Among those detained in October are writer Ehsan Taleb and Nizar Madani, a member in the Central Council of the National coordination. They are being held in an unknown location, according to ANHRI.

Long time human rights defender and lawyer, Razan Zaitouneh, 34, has meanwhile been in hiding since April after authorities began looking for her and her husband because she was documenting the human rights violations that have skyrocketed since unrest in Syria began in March. Last month, Amnesty International awarded her the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya award, in honour of the Russian journalist who was assassinated in 2006 and whose murderers have yet to be brought to justice.

The arrests and kidnappings in October are just the latest of dozens, perhaps even hundreds of free expression advocates who have been hunted down by state forces, according to a report released last month by SCM. The report documented 114 rights violations against media workers, bloggers and intellectuals since March 2011, but noted that due to the many limits on their investigation, including massive restrictions on media entry into volatile areas, the numbers are likely much higher.

The systematic and shocking rights abuses in Homs city and province – where the popular uprising began – has led Human Rights Watch to call on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo and refer those responsible for the deaths of unarmed civilians to the International Criminal Court.

According to research by Human Rights Watch, security forces killed 587 civilians in Homs province alone between mid-April and the end of August. Security forces have fired on neighbourhoods with anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles and have set up checkpoints that cut off food and medicine supplies.

ANHRI also reports that Syrian security forces burned books in the Al-Mazraa library and art work inside the Alpha Hall, which are respectively owned by an activist and artist who openly support the opposition movement.

Given the massive restrictions on media in Syria, foreign journalists are operating clandestinely and relying on local fixers, journalists and interpreters for help, reports RSF. In light of reports from Syrians about torture, long jail time and even death faced by those who aid international media, RSF calls on foreign journalists to take more care to protect Syrian sources and helpers.

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