Free Syrian Human Rights Defenders


Syria: Free detained human rights defenders

Raef Badawi

Over the Valentine’s Day weekend and through February 17, 2015, the third anniversary of the arrest and detention of the Syrian Center for Median and Freedom of Expression (SCM) staff, PEN Center USA calls for the release of Mazen Darwish, Hussein Ghrer, and Hani al-Zaytani, who were arrested on February 16, 2012, and remain held in prison solely for their human rights work.

For the third anniversary of the raid on the SCM offices, Yara Badr, Mazen Darwish’s wife and the current director of the organization, released this statement:

‘It is now three years since my husband, Mazen, and our dear friends and colleagues Hani and Hussein were taken from us and locked away in the Syrian regime’s prisons. More than the personal, it is for our homeland, Syria, that this is the biggest loss — what Mazen and others who suffer the same fate were trying to do was to make real change in Syria through nonviolent means, recognizing the dignity of all. By locking away these people, the regime has ensured that the only space available in Syria is for brutality, violence and inhumanity on a large scale. Not only do I need Mazen free, Syria and the Syrian people need all our heroes in prison freed immediately, for the sake of our future.’

On February 16, 2012, 14 human rights defenders were arrested at the organization’s offices in Damascus. The security officers closed the office and blindfolded the human rights defenders, then took them to an undisclosed location. While others were subsequently released, Darwish, Ghrer, and Zaitani remain behind bars, charged with “promoting terrorist activity.” The Terrorism Court, which is handling the case, has repeatedly postponed the trial. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in November 2013 that the three men’s deprivation of liberty was arbitrary.

PEN is promoting The Free Syrian Voices coalition's ‘Hearts in Our Hands’ Campaign, to call for the release of peaceful Syrian activists held both by the Syrian government and armed groups. The coalition was formed to coordinate the efforts of six international human rights organizations for detained Syrian human rights defenders and activists.

To help promote the “Hearts in Our Hands” campaign and encourage more people to join in, you can:
  • 1. Print this heart message (Click here for PDF/here for PNG) or hold any sign featuring a heart or make the shape of a heart with your hands.
  • 2. Take a picture of yourself with the message, heart, etc. If you don’t want to be in the picture, simply take a picture of the message, your hands, or the heart itself.
  • 3. Share on social media by posting your picture to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram with the hashtag #freeSYvoices. If you don’t use social media, send the picture to
Tweet and share the following message to Konstantin Dolgov (the Russian Foreign Ministry's Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law) and to Javad Zarif (the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs), to use their influence to secure the release of SCM staff:

Please SIGN the petition below to join PEN Center USA's appeal to the Syrian government for the immediate and unconditional release of the arbitrarily detained human rights defender Mazen Darwish, and his colleagues Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Ghareer.

The period for signing this petition is now over.