Watchdog welcomes Syria activist release, urges more freed

Syrian prisoners leave the court house in Damascus after they were released from jail on July 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/) (AFP/File)
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  • Mazen Darwish
    Syrian activist and lawyer

Beirut (AFP) - Reporters Without Borders on Sunday welcomed the release of two Syrian media activists freed in an Eid gesture, but called for a third man detained with them to also be freed.

The Paris-based watchdog said Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani were both among several hundred political prisoners accused of "terrorism" who were released this week on the Muslim Eid holiday.

But a third activist detained with them, prominent journalist and rights advocate Mazen Darwish, does not appear to have been freed, said the group known by its French acronym RSF.

It called for his immediate release.

"We are delighted by the unexpected news of the release of Ghreir and al-Zaitani, who had been unjustly held for more than three years," said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

"Despite this wave of releases, we must not forget Mazen Darwish and the others who are still being held, and the inhuman treatment they receive in the Syrian regime's jails.

"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Darwish and all the other imprisoned journalists."

Ghreir was reported to have been freed earlier, but RSF's statement was the first reference to Zaitani's release.

Darwish was arrested on February 16, 2012 along with Zaitani and Ghreir, his colleagues at the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.

They were accused of "publicising terrorist acts" under Syria's sweeping and controversial anti-terrorism law.

RSF says at least 30 journalists and bloggers are being held in Syrian government prisons and other detention centres.

Another 25, including six foreigners, are either missing or being held hostage by the Islamic State group or other extremists.

Some 200,000 people are detained in Syrian government detention centres, prisons and security facilities, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Last year, President Bashar al-Assad signed an amnesty that was supposed to see tens of thousands of political prisoners freed, but rights activists say only several hundred were actually released.

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