[JURIST] A coalition of 71 human rights groups released a statement [press release, PDF] on Monday urging the Syrian government to release three prominent human rights defenders on the third anniversary of their imprisonment. The statement identifies the three men, Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, as Syrian journalists who were arrested in a raid of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) [official website], and who have been detained and tortured on charges of “publicizing terrorist acts” under Syria’s Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. Despite being formally charged one year ago, their trial has been repeatedly postponed, and the government’s applicable 2014 amnesty grant has not been honored. The organizations claim that the men are being persecuted for their legitimate human rights work by being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and call for the immediate release of these three men and anyone who is being arbitrarily detained by the Syrian government.
The Syrian government has been accused of substantial human rights abuses during the course of the Syrian civil war [JURIST backgrounder]. In April the UN human rights chief reported [JURIST report] that human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict were overwhelmingly committed by the government and not by rebel forces. This was followed a month later by a statement [JURIST report] from Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] that presented evidence that the Syrian government was using chemical weapons on rebel-held towns. In August the UN released a report [JURIST report] confirming the deaths of at least 191,000 casualties of the Syrian conflict. In late January Human Rights watch also criticized [JURIST report] the government’s role in sustaining the Islamic State (IS) [JURIST backgrounder] and the abuses committed by the group.