Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2016, 14:58 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2013 - Syria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 18 December 2013
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2013 - Syria, 18 December 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/52b83bbc8.html [accessed 27 September 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2013

Syria: 12

Tal al-Mallohi, freelance
Imprisoned: December 27, 2009

Al-Mallohi, a journalistic blogger, was detained in December 2009 after she was summoned for questioning by security officials, according to local rights groups. In February 2011, she was sentenced by a state security court to five years in prison on a fabricated charge of disclosing state secrets.

The private newspaper Al-Watan said in October 2010 that al-Mallohi, 21, was suspected of spying for the United States. But lawyers allowed into the closed court session said the judge "did not give evidence or details as to why she was convicted," the BBC reported. The U.S. State Department condemned the trial, saying in a statement that the allegations of espionage were baseless.

On October 24, 2013, a Syrian court ordered al-Mallohi's release, news reports said. In late 2013, it was not clear if the court order had been implemented.

Al-Mallohi's blog was devoted to Palestinian rights and was critical of Israeli policies. It also discussed the frustrations of Arab citizens with their governments and what she perceived to be the stagnation of the Arab world. Al-Mallohi's case gained widespread attention in the Arab blogosphere, on social media websites, and with human rights activists worldwide.

Tariq Saeed Balsha, freelance
Imprisoned: August 19, 2011

Balsha, a freelance cameraman, was arrested in the coastal city of Latakia three days after he covered an episode in which government troops opened fire at Al-Raml Palestinian refugee camp, according to local press freedom groups.

Balsha's footage of demonstrations and authorities' efforts to quash unrest had been posted to a number of websites, including the Shaam News Network, a citizen news organization that has published tens of thousands of videos documenting the popular uprising in Syria. Shaam's footage has been used by international news organizations such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC.

In November 2011, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression reported that Balsha was being held at Latakia Central Prison. In 2012, Balsha was transferred to the Homs Central Prison, according to a friend who is campaigning for his release. Authorities had not disclosed information on Balsha's whereabouts, legal status, or well-being in late 2013.

Bilal Ahmed Bilal, Palestine Today
Imprisoned: September 13, 2011

Intelligence agents arrested Bilal, a reporter for the Palestinian television station Palestine Today and a contributor to several Arabic-language news outlets.

There were conflicting reports about the location of Bilal's arrest. Electronic media outlet Syria Deeply reported that Bilal's wife claimed he was arrested at a regime checkpoint, while local news reports also citing his family said he was taken from his home in Damascus to an army recruitment center in the town of Daraya.

Immediately prior to his arrest, Bilal was preparing travel documents to go to Lebanon on assignment for Palestine Today, news reports said. His employer has not publicly commented on his detention.

In April 2012, a former prisoner informed Bilal's family and friends that he had seen the journalist in Sednaya Prison, west of Damascus, a CPJ source said. In June 2013, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the Arabic international satellite news channel Al-An TV reported that a military field court had sentenced Bilal to 15 years in prison, but did not specify the charges on which the journalist was convicted.

Mazen Darwish, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Hussein Ghrer, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Hani al-Zitani, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Imprisoned: February 16, 2012

Authorities raided the offices of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus and arrested several journalists and press freedom activists. Among those still being held in late 2013 were the center's president, Darwish, the prominent blogger Ghrer, and al-Zitani, another journalist for the center. Mansour al-Omari and Abd al-Rahman Hamada, two other journalists arrested the same day, were released for unknown reasons in early 2013 pending trial, the center reported.

The center said all five of the journalists were indicted on February 27, 2013, for purportedly publicizing acts of terror under Article 8 of the newly enacted counterterrorism law. The trial has been repeatedly delayed, and the next session will be held on January 27, 2014, according to a statement by the center and other human rights groups. The accused face up to 15 years each if convicted, human rights groups said.

The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression was instrumental in documenting the deaths and detentions of journalists after the popular uprising began in March 2011. The group also disseminated reports about the government's suppression of news and commentary, providing important context as the regime sought to impose an international media blackout.

Human rights groups have said the men were tortured in custody by Air Force intelligence agents. In 2013, officials moved them to Adra prison and allowed their families to visit, news reports said.

Ghrer had been arrested previously, in October 2011, on charges of "weakening national sentiments," "forming an association without a permit," and "inciting demonstrations." He was released on bail on December 1, 2011, according to Razan Ghazzawi, the U.S.-born blogger who was also arrested in the February 2012 raid on the center. Ghrer's blog featured stories about other detained bloggers in Syria, the country's popular uprising, and Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories, among other topics. Ghrer suffers from coronary disease and high blood pressure, requiring daily medication.

Since his detention, Darwish was has been honored with two international human rights awards in absentia: In 2012, he was awarded the Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders, and in June 2013 he was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights.

Jihad Jamal, freelance
Imprisoned: March 7, 2012

Jamal, a contributor to local news websites, was detained at a Damascus café along with several human rights activists, according to local news websites. Jamal also aggregated news stories for dissemination to international outlets.

In May 2012, Jamal's case was transferred to a military court, according to news reports. He waged a hunger strike that month to protest his detention, reports said. Authorities had disclosed no other information about Jamal's legal status, whereabouts, or well-being as of late 2013.

Jamal had been arrested several times previously, including once in October 2011 when he was detained along with Sean McAllister, a British reporter working for the U.K.'s Channel 4. Local news websites said his repeated arrests stemmed from his reporting on human rights abuses and the popular uprising.

Ali Mahmoud Othman, freelance
Imprisoned: March 28, 2012

Othman, who ran a makeshift media center in the besieged Baba Amr district of Homs, was initially held by a military intelligence unit in Aleppo and then transferred to Damascus, Paul Conroy, a photographer for The Sunday Times, said in an interview with the U.K.'s Channel 4.

Conroy, who was injured in the government attack on the Baba Amr media center that killed journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, said Othman was instrumental in getting journalists in and out of the embattled district. He said Othman, originally a vegetable vendor, was one of the first Syrians to use video to document the unrest in Homs. Citizen journalists such as Othman filled the information void as the Syrian regime barred international journalists from entering the country to cover the civil war, CPJ research shows.

Authorities had not disclosed information on Othman's condition or legal status in late 2013.

International reporters and diplomats, including U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, have expressed concern that Othman has been tortured while in custody, according to news reports. Othman appeared on Syrian state television in May 2012 for what the station described as an interview. The questioning was aimed at asserting a theory of an international media conspiracy against the Syrian regime.

Austin Tice, freelance
Imprisoned: August 2012

Tice, a freelance photojournalist who contributed to The Washington Post, McClatchy, Al-Jazeera English, and several other news outlets, went missing in mid-August 2012, according to news reports.

In an August 28, 2012, interview with Czech television, the Czech Republic's ambassador to Syria, who represents U.S. interests there, said embassy sources reported that Tice was "alive and that he was detained by government forces in the outskirts of Damascus, where the rebels were fighting government troops." Syrian authorities have denied holding Tice, according to news reports citing his family.

The first public sign of Tice's condition appeared in a YouTube video posted on September 26, 2012. In the 47-second clip, a group of turbaned men shout "Allahu akbar" (God is great) and push Tice to his knees. Several analysts and news reports suggested that the scenes in the video were staged, and that the segment had been shot to promote a view that Islamic extremist groups were behind the unrest in Syria.

Authorities had not disclosed any information on Tice's whereabouts, legal status, or condition in late 2013. The Tice family said in a statement on their website on May 30, 2013, that they have not had any contact with Austin or his captors and "do not know with certainty who is holding him captive."

Fares Maamou, freelance
Imprisoned: October 1, 2012

Maamou, a contributor to the Damascus-based Shaam News Network, was arrested in Homs, according to accounts from local activists and press freedom groups. Maamou had been covering events in the Homs neighborhoods of Deir Baalba and Al-Rabee al-Arabi for the network, contributing reporting and footage.

Shaam has posted tens of thousands of videos documenting the unrest in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. The network's footage has been used by international news organizations such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC.

Authorities had not disclosed any information on Maamou's whereabouts, well-being, or legal status in late 2013.

Akram Raslan, Al-Fedaa
Imprisoned: October 2, 2012

Raslan, a cartoonist who worked for the Hama-based newspaper Al-Fedaa and contributed to several other news websites, was arrested by intelligence officials at his workplace in Hama, according to news reports. Raslan's cartoons, which criticized the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, had been published on his own blog and a number of websites, including that of Al-Jazeera.

Conflicting reports have emerged about Raslan's status. Cartoon Rights Network International, which has closely tracked Raslan's case, reported that he may have been executed by the Syrian regime after being sentenced to life imprisonment on July 26, 2013. But after reports emerged that Raslan was still alive and the family said it could not confirm his death, the network amended its statement and said it was working to verify those claims.

Massoud Akko of the Syrian Journalists Association told Public Radio International that he had also received reports that Raslan had been killed, but said the claims could not be confirmed.

The Syrian government has not disclosed any information about Raslan's health, whereabouts, or legal status.

Jihad As'ad Mohamed, freelance
Imprisoned: August 10, 2013

Mohamed was last seen being taken away by security forces on Revolution Street in Damascus in August, according to local and regional news reports and the Facebook page calling for his release.

Mohamed, a freelance writer, contributed several critical articles to local news websites, including the pro-reform Alef Today. In his articles, he criticized the government's crackdown on peaceful protests and called for reforms.

Mohamed was the editor-in-chief of the weekly Kassioun before leaving the paper in the summer of 2012, citing a disagreement with the paper's editorial position, according to a staff member at Kassioun who spoke to CPJ. The paper is affiliated with the socialist Popular Will party, which has shown a willingness to engage with the Syrian government, which other opposition groups vehemently refuse to do.

Syrian state security forces had previously held Mohamed for questioning in connection with his journalistic activities after leaving Kassioun, according to news reports that did not specify the exact date of the earlier detention. The journalist had joined Kassioun in 2006, the reports said.

In late 2013, authorities had not disclosed Mohamed's whereabouts, condition, or legal status.

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