Journalist and activist Mazen Darwish
Reporters without Borders has honoured journalist and activist Mazen Darwish for his tireless campaigning for freedom of expression in Syria. Since February, he has been held in a Syrian prison and reportedly tortured.
"In Syria, being a journalist is like walking through a minefield," said Mazen Darwish in a March 2011 interview in Damascus. "Nobody can tell when a mine is going to explode," he said.
The 38-year-old reporter knows that all too well, having spent eight years fighting for free expression in Syria without caving to government pressure. At the end of 2004, he founded the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). The SCM fought for journalists' rights and supported them in disputes with Syrian authorities through February 2012, when Darwish and several of his colleagues were arrested.
The SCM regularly published reports on free speech violations and on the working conditions Syrian journalists face. The group also collected and publicised cases of bloggers and other figures active in media who had gone missing. Ultimately, the SCM advocated reforming media law in Syria.
In the past, Darwish tried to register the SCM in Syria as a non-governmental organisation, but without success. He said that Syrian government leaders were extremely sensitive to, if not even hostile to, NGOs and other activities within civil society.
"It's as if you were committing some huge sin," Darwish said of authorities' suspicion.
Again and again, Syrian officials tried to disrupt the SCM's work, repeatedly closing the centre. Darwish was also bullied by the state. He was imprisoned multiple times, had to check in with security authorities and was prevented from leaving the country. Nonetheless, he continued to promote his cause.
"I grew up in a political family," he claimed. His father was persecuted for years on political grounds, and his mother was active in a number of pro-Palestinian organisations.
Since the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship began in early 2011, Syrian journalists and human rights activists live in more danger than before. Reporters Without Borders reports that 17 journalists have been killed this year in Syria, and that 21 have been arrested. The latter group includes Mazen Darwish, who serves as director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression.
On February 16 security forces stormed the SCM's office in Damascus, arresting Mazen Darwish and fellow activists. Where he has been held since is unknown. Contact with the outside world is prohibited, but Reporters Without Borders has obtained information that Darwish is being tortured and in a troubling state of health.
Source: Deutsche Welle