Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2012 - Syria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 11 December 2012
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2012 - Syria, 11 December 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50c7027cc.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
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, 2012

Syria: 15

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.

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 the unrest have 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 as of late 2012.

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, at his home in Damascus and took him to an army recruitment center in the town of Daraya, according to local news reports citing his family.

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. Authorities had not disclosed any information about his status, whereabouts, or the charges against him as of late 2012.

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
Mansour al-Omari, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Abd al-Rahman Hamada, 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 2012 were the center's president, Darwish, the prominent blogger Ghrer, and three other journalists working for the center, al-Zitani, al-Omari, and Hamada. Authorities had not disclosed any charges against the detainees as of late year.

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. The organization's website has been inaccessible since April.

Security agents were holding Darwish and Ghrer in solitary confinement, according to news reports. Human rights groups said the two had been tortured and denied basic legal rights, including access to lawyer. In July, Ghrer waged a hunger strike to protest the ongoing detention, according to human rights groups.

In August 2012, human rights groups reported that Darwish's case would be transferred to the Field Court, a military tribunal that holds proceedings in secret and without the presence of a defense lawyer. As of late year, it was unknown if the transfer took place.

Ghrer had been arrested previously, in October 2011, on charges of "weakening national sentiments," "forming an association without a permit" and "inciting demonstrations." His 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 medications.

Authorities had not disclosed information on the other detainees' whereabouts, legal status, or well-being as of late 2012.

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, 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 2012.

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 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 UK'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 have filled the information void as the Syrian regime has barred international journalists from entering the country to cover the civil war, CPJ research shows. As of late year, authorities had not disclosed information on Othman's condition or legal status.

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 for what the station described as an interview. The questioning was aimed at asserting a theory of an international media conspiracy against the 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, according to news reports.

In an August 28 interview with Czech television, the Czech Republic's ambassador to Syria, who also represents U.S. interests there, said that embassy sources reported 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 refused to confirm if they were holding Tice, according to news reports.

The first sign of Tice's condition appeared in a YouTube video posted on September 26. 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 fictitious, and that the segment had been shot to promote a view that Islamic extremist groups were behind the unrest in Syria.

Malik Abu al-Khair, freelance
Imprisoned: August 19, 2012

Security forces arrested Abu al-Khair, a writer for the online newsmagazine Al-Thara, while on his way to Lebanon, according to news reports. Al-Thara covers women and children's issues. Al-Khair also writes on his own blog, Hadeeth al-Rooh (Conversations of the Soul), frequently criticizing the regime.

In October, he was transferred from the city of Suweida to Damascus to face trial, according to local opposition activists and local press freedom groups. Authorities had not publicly disclosed the charges against Abu al-Khair by late year.

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. As of late year, authorities had not disclosed any information on Maamou's whereabouts, well-being, or legal status.

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 criticizing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had been published on his own blog and a number of news websites, including that of Al-Jazeera.

As of late year, authorities had not disclosed any information on Raslan's whereabouts, well-being, or legal status.

Shada al-Madad, freelance
Imprisoned: November 1, 2012

Al-Madad, a freelance journalist for several local news outlets, was arrested after being summoned to a government security office in Damascus, according to local news reports. Al-Madad had resigned from the pro-government news website Damas Post, where she had worked as a reporter, the news reports said.

The journalist more recently contributed to the anti-government news websites All4Syria and Souria Al-Ghad, news reports said. She also used her Facebook page to report on developments in the conflict, posting an extensive interview with a member of the Free Syrian Army and describing what had motivated him to join the rebels.

Authorities had not disclosed any information about the status, whereabouts, or the charges against al-Madad as of late 2012.

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