More than 70 days have passed since the arrest of Mazen Darwish, Syrian journalist and head of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). Rumors had circulated that he would soon be released. However, instead of releasing Darwish, Syrian authorities proceeded to apprehend a group of his friends and colleagues, including his wife Yara Badr, who were transferred to the Adra central prison. Later, news leaked from inside the prison — in which Mazen Darwish is also being held — that Darwish’s health has seriously deteriorated and that his life is in danger.
Darwish has been long known in Syria for his active role in a number of civil society organizations. He has expended much time and effort in service of his community and his country. In past years, he has contributed greatly to the development of Syrian media after previously having done so in the arena of human rights.
Some of Mazen Darwish’s most important work over the past decade has focused on developing the Syrian media. He began by founding the SCM. Through the SCM, he focused his work on two issues: his concern for journalists and media personalities, and his interest in Syrian media institutions. Media personalities and the institutions in which they work were in great need of development — and still are today — so that they can remain up to date with the current standards of media freedom.
Modernization of the media sector is also important so that Syria may be able to rid itself of the type of propaganda and inflammatory press that does nothing more than justify the actions of regional powers. On these two matters, Darwish sought to personally establish partnerships between the SCM and several Syrian media organizations. He ignored those who had warned him to refrain from directly interacting with Syrian journalists and state and private media organizations. He was told to stay away from the press and journalists associated with the regime. His efforts included technical and vocational training, as well as other miscellaneous projects to develop the media sector in Syria.
The official position toward Darwish and the activities of the SCM has been vague — ranging from cautious satisfaction to deep suspicion. This can be seen as natural behavior on the part of a regime that has taken a cautious and closed approach to its five-decades-long domination over the country. However, the SCM’s activities have had a completely different impact at the international level. It attained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last year.
As a result of his activities and efforts, Mazen Darwish earned the respect and attention of leading international media organizations, thus becoming a prominent media figure among the Syrians. He is a member of the International Federation of Journalists and a member of the International Bureau of Reporters Without Borders. He also holds the position of vice president of the Institute for International Cooperation and Development in Brussels.
Mazen Darwish — and the value he represents for media in Syria — should not be in detention. His life should not be in danger nor should his colleagues be detained, whether they are SCM employees or guests who merely happened to be at the center during the raid last February , in which its contents were confiscated and destroyed. Mazen Darwish, those arrested with him and other detainees deserve freedom because they are fighting for their homeland and a better life.