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Profile: Mazen Darwish

Mazen Darwish is a renowned Syrian lawyer and advocate for free expression, internationally recognized as an invaluable source of information on the conflict in his country, and the recipient of UNESCO’s prestigious Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award in 2015. He was released from prison on 10 August 2015, after spending three-and-half years behind bars on spurious terrorism charges. Darwish is still on trial before the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court.

AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui, File

"Though there is no greater happiness for a prisoner than the knowledge that outer world is remembering him, as devastation and bloodshed has engulfed my homeland, happiness has become a kind of luxury for which I feel ashamed."
Mazen Darwish, 10 June 2013, in the Damascus Central Prison in Adra

When Mazen Darwish founded the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in 2004, it was the only such institution dedicated to monitoring attacks on journalists, bloggers, and activists in Syria. Soon after its founding, and long before Syria was plunged into conflict, the government refused to accredit the centre and it was forced to operate in secret.

Darwish was detained briefly in 2008 and was subject to many travel bans as a result of his work with the centre, but he was not deterred. In early 2011, during the beginning stages of the Syrian civil war, Darwish reported on clashes in Daraa and participated in protests calling for political prisoners to be released. He was a major source of information for international media outlets, namely the Associated Press.

On 16 February 2012, Syrian Air Force intelligence agents raided the centre's headquarters and arrested Darwish and all other staff members present. He was held incommunicado for several months and only in November of that year was allowed a first visit by his relatives at Adra Prison.

In February 2013, Darwish was charged before an investigating judge of the Anti-Terrorism Court because of his work to promote and protect human rights. He is now standing trial alongside two of his colleagues, Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zaitani. A hearing in his case has been postponed 21 times so far.

Although the government announced an amnesty for political prisoners in June 2014, including for charges Darwish faces, he was not freed until a year later, on 10 August 2015.

On 3 May 2015, Mazen Darwish was honoured with the UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, two months after being named a World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute (IPI). IPI launched a campaign calling for his release, emphasizing that “the world, and Syria, need Mazen's voice.”

[Last updated 21 August 2015]

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