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Young activist faces possible death sentence

UPDATE: Young activist freed on bail, still facing possible death sentence (RSF, 30 April 2012)

(RSF/IFEX) - 27 April 2012 - As United Nations observers try to carry out their mission with considerable difficulty, Reporters Without Borders would like to draw attention to the Assad regime's many violations of freedom of information, which include jailing those who have the courage to inform us about the situation in Syria.

“We call for the immediate release of all the professional journalists, citizen journalists and netizens jailed by the regime,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Syrian authorities have undertaken to carry out Kofi Annan's peace plan, which envisages the release of all prisoners of conscience. It is high time the authorities kept their promises.”

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about the fate of Yara Michel Shammas, 21, who was arrested with 11 other activists in a café in the old part of Damascus on 7 March and was transferred to a prison in Homs. Nine new charges were brought against her on 22 April, including one under article 298 of the criminal code which carries the death penalty.

Article 298 says: “A life sentence of forced labour will be passed on anyone committing an act that aims to cause a civil war or communal strife by arming Syrian citizens or inciting them to take up arms against each other, or to incite a massacre or looting in one or more localities. If this act achieves its aim, the guilty party will be sentenced to death.”

An information technology specialist, Shammas is the daughter of Michel Shammas, a well-known human rights lawyer active on Facebook. Anwar Al-Bonni, the head of the Syrian Centre for Legal Study and Research, said “what is happening to Yara Michel Shammas is clearly a way of putting pressure on the lawyer Shammas.”

Reporters Without Borders continues to be very concerned about Ali Mahmoud Othman, a Homs-based citizen journalist and resistance figure, who was arrested in Aleppo on 28 March. According to a recently released activist, he is still alive but is now being held by the intelligence services in Damascus and is being subjected to appalling forms of torture.

The press freedom organization is also very concerned about Noura Al-Jizawi, an activist who was also arrested on 28 March in Damascus. She is a member of the Syrian Revolution General Commission (an opposition coalition) and Flash News Network, and worked with the Syrian revolutionary newspaper Hurriyat.

There is still no news of two Turkish journalists – Adem Özköse, a reporter for the magazine Gerçek Hayat and the daily Milat, and cameraman Hamit Coşkun – who were abducted by Shabiha militiamen near the northwestern city of Idlib on 10 March and then handed over to members of the Syrian intelligence services.

Seven detained members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and a visitor to the centre who was arrested with them on 16 February, were told on 22 April that they are to be tried by a military court on a charge of “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them,” which carries a possible six-month jail sentence.

The eight detainees – Yara Badr, Razan Ghazzawi, Hanadi Zahlout, Sana Zetani, Joan Farso, Bassam Al-Ahmad, Ayham Ghazzoul and Mayadah Khaleel – are currently being held in Damascus' Adra prison.

The other five SCM members who were arrested on 16 February – Mazen Darwish (the centre's founder and president), Hussein Ghareer, Hani Zetani, Mansour Al-Omari and Abdelrahman Hamada – continue to be held incommunicado.

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Read the full press release, including a list of many other journalists and netizens who are detained or missing

MORE INFORMATION: Regime continues crackdown on journalists (CPJ, 27 April 2012)

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