Syria: release human rights defenders Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani

The ICJ today called on the Syrian authorities to request that all pending criminal charges against Mazen Darwish (photo), Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani be quashed, and to release the three prominent Syrian human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally.

The detainees have been charged under Article 8 of Law No. 19 of July 2012 on combatting terrorism (the Anti-Terror Law) for “promoting acts of terrorism”.

The charge stems from their important work in documenting cases of alleged unlawful killings, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances in the context of the ongoing Syrian armed conflict.

The three defenders have been prosecuted before the Anti-Terrorism Court, an exceptional court established by Law No.22 of July 2012. Trial hearings, repeatedly postponed since 19 May 2013, began on 24 March 2014.

The verdict is expected to be pronounced on 24 September 2014.

“The trial of these persons, who have acted to carry out essential human rights work under conditions of great risk, constitutes a mockery of Justice”, said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

The Anti-Terrorism Court has a deplorable record of administering justice, spanning thousands of prosecutions over the last two years, the ICJ says.

Mazen Darwish, Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani, like other detainees, have been denied the even the basic elements of fair trial rights, including the right to be presumed innocent, the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention and the rights to defense.

Under Law No.22 of 2012, the Anti-Terrorism Courts are presided over by three judges, one of whom is a member of the military (article 2).

There is no full right of appeal, as a judgment of the Court is subject only to review before a special branch of the Court of Cassation (article 5), which can only review whether the law has been correctly applied.

Furthermore, procedures governing the Court are not clearly expressed, effectively allowing the Court broad discretion to determine its own procedures.

“Instead of investigating the catalogue of gross human rights violations Mazen Darwish and the other accused were subjected to and holding the perpetrators to account, the Syrian authorities are resorting to exceptional laws and exceptional courts to silence those documenting its human rights abuses,” Benarbia said.

“This travesty of justice must come to an end and those who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained must be immediately and unconditionally released,” he added.

The detainees were arrested by Air Force Intelligence (AFI) officers on 16 February 2012, almost five months before the adoption of the Anti-Terror Law and the establishment of the Anti-terror Court.

For nine months they were held in incommunicado detention, without access to their families or lawyers. The ICJ believes that they were subjected to enforced disappearance.

According to information available to the ICJ, the detainees were also subject to torture and other ill-treatment while in AFI custody, including being subjected to prolonged solitary confinement.

Methods of torture at AFI facilities, which have been well documented, include whippings, severe beatings, electric shocks, and genital and other forms of bodily mutilation.


Alice Goodenough, Legal Adviser, ICJ MENA Programme, m +44 7815 570 834, e: alice.goodenough(a)

NewsPress releases