Damascus TV presenter arrested under cyber-crime law

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns last weekend’s arrest of a Damascus-based TV presenter who had posted a comment on Facebook about the decline in living standards in Syria, and deplores the fact that journalists still cannot raise sensitive issues in government-controlled areas without risking reprisals.

Hala Jerf, a presenter on state-owned Syrian TV, was one of a total of eight people arrested on 30 January in an operation that, according to the interior ministry, was carried out as part of a campaign to “combat the spread of false news and rumours” on social media.

Jerf’s arrest followed a series of recent Facebook posts, including one in which she lamented Syria’s return to the “stone age.”

Moussa Abdelnour, the head of Syria’s government-linked Union of Journalists, told local media that Jerf was being investigated under the cyber-crime law, which bans posting comments that undermine “national sentiment” or content “defaming the nation.” Abdelnour said the union would accompany Jerf when she was being interrogated.

“It is regrettable to see that Syrian journalists continue to be arrested and prosecuted when they raise sensitive issues,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “They should be allowed to echo the concerns of Syrians in their daily lives without fearing reprisals.”

Kenan Wakkaf, a journalist based in the port city of Tartus, was arrested last September after writing a story for the daily newspaper Al-Wehda about alleged corruption in the energy sector. He was released a few days later after media minister Imad Sara intervened.

Syria is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.