Newspaper reporter freed after being held for three months without charge

Published on 24 February 2010

Reporters Without Borders welcomes newspaper journalist Maan Aqil’s release from prison yesterday but deplores the fact that the authorities held him for three months without ever charging him.

The national criminal investigations department still has not said why it arrested Aqil at his place of work on 22 November. A reporter with the government daily Al-Thawra, he had written articles denouncing administrative corruption.


Newspaper journalist is latest victim of wave of arbitrary arrests and trials

Reporters Without Borders is worried about Ma’an Aqil, a journalist who was arrested at his office in the government daily Al-Thawra in Damascus on 22 November by police from the national criminal investigations department, who took him to their headquarters for questioning.

The police have not explained why he has been arrested. Two days after his arrest, the Union of Press, Publications and Printing, which handles the publication of state-owned newspapers, announced that he had been dismissed.

“Harassment, summonses, interrogations, arrests, sentences – the practices of the Syrian judicial and security systems are steadily eroding media freedom and free expression,” Reporters Without Borders said. “President Bashar Al-Assad has built himself the image of an international negotiator but Syrians who defend free expression are being sidelined and jailed one by one.”

National security agents had been harassing Aqil for the past year about his articles and the views he expressed. He had written many articles about government corruption and had posted an article on the Kulna Shurakaa website ( criticising the journalist Samira Musalama’s appointment as head of the government newspaper Tashrin.

Aqil had also repeatedly defended other journalists who had been harassed by the authorities and had filed complaints denouncing the harassment.

In 1987, Aqil was sentenced to nine years in prison for belonging to the Communist Action League, a part that has been banned since the 1980s. His latest arrest comes at time when five of the party’s members are awaiting trial. It also coincides with a wave of arbitrary arrests and trials of human rights activists.

Pir Rustem, a politically committed Kurdish writer and member of the Damascus Declaration National Council, was arrested on 29 November. Relatives say he is being held in one of the country’s high security prisons.

Muhannad Al-Hassani, the president of the Syrian Human Rights Association, has been held since 28 July on charges of “undermining national sentiment” and “spreading false information” and faces a sentence of three to 15 years in prison. Anwar Al Bunni, a human rights lawyer who defended political prisoners, was sentenced on 24 June to five years in prison and fine of 100,000 Syrian pounds (1,445 euros) for “spreading mendacious reports liable to weaken the nation’s spirit.”