Syria’s War on Free Speech
Helle Dale /
The Syrian government’s sickening attacks on its own people continues unabated.
Syrian government troops are pushing into the city of Daraa, where resistance is currently concentrated, near the Jordanian border south of Damascus. This follows equally brutal sieges on the rebellious cities of Homs and Hama, which the Assad regime is determined to beat into submission. When the United Nations is talking about crimes against humanity and the Arab League is demanding that Assad leave the presidency, it is clear that the situation on the ground is awful.
Freedom of expression is among the human rights being trampled day after day with increasing ferocity in Syria. The government is seeking to impose a news blackout, which is just about impossible in the age of cell phones and social media. Still, the regime is not letting up.
Reporters Without Borders reported this week on the detention of Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Syrian security forces arrested him during a raid on his office in Damascus, along with 14 other people, including employees of the center, journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists. Reporters Without Borders reports being extremely concerned for the physical safety of those under arrest, as well they might be. This is a regime whose brutality and determination to cling to power knows no bounds.
Darwish has shown himself to be a tough fighter, as anyone who takes on the Syrian regime would have to be. He has been repeatedly arrested and interrogated, and his center is the only nongovernmental organization in Syria that monitors the media and the Internet. The regime finds it a thorn in its side and has closed it down twice, in 2005 and 2009.
For its invaluable and courageous work, it has received international recognition. In July 2011, it was accorded consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Darwish received the German Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in October 2011.
Numerous other Syrian journalists, bloggers, and cyber activists are under arrest or in exile. Their lives depend on the international community keeping up the pressure and keeping the spotlight on their fate, demanding that the Syrian regime cease its unconscionable campaign against free media.