English PEN today received formal confirmation that all charges against the Syrian journalist and writer Mazen Darwish have been dropped. He is a free man.
Darwish is the founder of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), an organisation that has fearlessly campaigned for free speech in Syria despite the appalling civil war and associated human rights abuses. Darwish, along with his colleagues Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani, were detained in 2012 and held without trial until earlier this year.
The ordeal suffered by this men has been compounded by the Syrian authorities sluggish actions since 2014. Then, a presidential decree granted amnesty to all prisoners detained under flawed ‘terrorism’ charges. However, it has taken until now for Mazen Darwish to actually be released and to be told formerly that there are no further charges against him.
Darwish was the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize last year, an honour he shared with Salman Rushdie. You can read Mazen’s electric acceptance speech, which he wrote while in prison and which was smuggled out, sent to English PEN, and then published in the Guardian.
Such releases are, for me, tinged with apprehension. Darwish, like many of the other cases PEN supports, is an ‘outlier‘—a tenacious activist who will continue to speak when everyone else has been intimidated into silence. So there is always the worry that the authorities will pursue him again. I hope that doesn’t happen.
This is clearly an example of how activism can lead to success. The Syrian authorities have been bombarded with messages, both to their embassies and on social media, and awards like the Pinter Prize have generated much needed media coverage. Meanwhile, international bodies like the UN have done their part, pressurising Syria to do the decent thing in resolutions and reports.
I don’t know how much my Vine helped in all that. A tiny little bit, I hope.