Since the street protest movement began in March 2011 in Syria, threats and physical attacks against journalists have increased. The list of detained bloggers and journalists gets longer and includes foreign journalists arrested and deported. Among the latest, prominent blogger and programmer Hussein Ghrer, who disappeared on October 24.
On October 27 Reporters Without Borders published a list that includes some of the journalists, bloggers and cyber-activists identified as currently detained in the country:
- Qais Abatili, a very active netizen who was arrested on 25 September.
- Nizar Al-Baba, an online activist who has been held since 21 September.
- Malak Al-Shanawany, a blogger and activist who contributes to many websites. She was arrested on a Damascus street on 22 September. She has been arrested twice before.
- Jehad Jamal, a blogger better known by the pseudonym of “Milan,” who has been held since 21 September.
- Nizar Adleh, a journalist who contributes to many websites. He has been held since 6 September.
- Miraal Brourda, a writer and poet who contributes to many websites.
- Ahmed Bilal, a producer for Falesteen TV who was arrested in the Damascus suburb of Mo’adamieh on 13 September.
- Amer Matar, a journalist with the daily Al-Hayat, who was arrested on 4 September. This was his second arrest.
- Alwan Zouaiter, a journalist who was writing for many Lebanese dailies. He was arrested by intelligence officials in the northern city of Raqqah after returning from Libya. He was initially sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly contacting the Syrian opposition while abroad. The sentence was subsequently reduced to 13 months.
- Omar Abdel Salam
- Amer Al-As’ad, a first-year information technology student who also writes as a journalist for many Arabic-language dailies. He was arrested on 3 July and arrested again on 4 August. There has been no news of him since then.
- Hanadi Zahlout, a freelance journalist who has written many articles for online publications. He was arrested for the second time on 25 July, released four days later and re-arrested on 4 August. He is currently in Adra prison.
- Omar Al-As’ad, a journalist who writes for many Arabic-language dailies. He is also a final-year information technology student. He was arrested on 5 July and re-arrested on 4 August. There has been no news of him since then.
- Rudy Othman and Asim Hamsho, two bloggers who were arrested at the start of August.
- Abd Qabani, a netizen arrested on 8 August.
- Ammar Sa’ib, a netizen arrested on 1 August in Damascus.
- Mohamed Tahan Jamal, a member of the League of Arab Writers and Union of Journalists, who was arrested on 20 July after signing the “Aleppo Appeal for the Nation.”
- Abd Al-Majid Tamer and Mahmoud Asem Al-Mohamed, two journalists working for Kurdish news websites who were arrested on 31 May.
- Manaf Al Zeitoun, who was arrested on 25 March. There has been no news of him since his arrest.
Repression against freedom of speech is not unprecedented in Syria, whose authorities have prevented journalists from entering the country for decades. On March 24, Syrian political adviser Buthaina Shaaban announced on behalf of the Regional Command of the Baath Party a list of reforms that included a free press. On August 28, President Bashar al-Assad approved a new media law that purportedly upholds freedom of expression and bans the arrest of journalists. Yet, less than a week later, a Syrian journalist and contributor to the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat was arrested, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported, and dozens of others have followed. Also according to CPJ:
A close look to the legislation, Decree No. 108, suggests the Assad regime is simply paying lip service to reform.
The announced reforms have had no effect on the ground, and the list of journalists and bloggers arrested and disappeared has never been longer. Reporters Without Borders has also added President Bashar AlAssad to its list of Predators of Press Freedom, that includes organizations and individuals “who cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists.”
According to Syrian activist Rami Jarah (aka Alexander Page), who was imprisoned twice in Damascus:
Over the past weeks the Syrian regime has performed a vicious crackdown against bloggers and social activists inside Syria. Those compromised and detained for such “acts of crime” are subjected to unbelievable hostility and usually tortured severely. It´s all part of Assad's lack of tolerance to freedom of speech. Online Activists use a number of different techniques to encrypt the data they are sending and receiving through Syria's one and only Internet Service provider: “Bashar Al Assad”.
On a blog that activists have put together to demand the immediate disclosure of the fate of Hussein Ghrer and the release of all prisoners of conscience, they also refer to words as weapons in a context where freedom of speech is considered an enemy:
Fear of freedom and hatred against all liberties are responsible for Hussein´s detention. Words are Hussein´s weapons, and ours too. We want these weapons to break the silence. We command you to raise your voice for Hussein´s freedom and all prisoners of conscience in Syrian cells.