Archive for August, 2015

Young Lebanese activists challenge old political class

August 27, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — First they egged the prime minister’s building. Then they dumped some of the garbage piling up on Beirut’s streets outside the home of the environment minister, furious the government couldn’t get its act together to find a solution when Lebanon’s main landfill shut down.

But perhaps the most electrifying move by the young, tech-savvy group of activists was when they spread their catchy slogan “You Stink” across social media. It helped turn the trash crisis into a popular uprising against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since its civil war ended in 1990.

The core founders of “You Stink” include one of the Middle East’s most influential bloggers, as well as a creative media strategist, a rights lawyer, journalists and an actress whose film was banned by authorities for addressing touchy sexual issues. The group quickly picked up supporters from across the spectrum of Lebanon’s divisive politics and sects.

“We are the future of this country and the agents of change. If the youth didn’t do this, no one will do it,” said Nadyn Jouny, a 25-year-old freelance journalist who is among the group’s founding members.

She said the movement was a reflection of the growing frustration with an aging and corrupt political class that has failed to even show concern for people’s woes. She called it “the regime of the warlords.”

“You Stink” claims to have set aside ideology in its effort to mobilize support for an uprising against the political establishment. It says it seeks to ditch a patronage system that divvies up power to each of Lebanon’s multiple communities — Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and more — in favor of a non-sectarian culture.

That system has been the center of Lebanese politics for decades and helped fuel the 15-year civil war — and critics say it leads politicians to spend more time cultivating their sectarian fiefdoms than actually governing.

“You Stink” is up against aging warlords and oligarchs who have passed power on to their sons and relatives for generations — and continue to hold the country’s top positions with expansive business interests and powerful militias that helped them survive the war. Consecutive governments neglected to improve the country’s infrastructure, leading to chronic water shortages and electricity cuts that continue 25 years after the war ended.

“The corruption has been around for so long. But the people have also now smelled it,” said Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old “You Stink” supporter. Jouny said the stench from the mounds of trash that blocked Beirut streets was a wake-up call to residents who took pride in their beautiful city. Two major rallies over the weekend brought some 20,000 people into the streets of the capital, numbers rarely seen in a country wary of the chaos in neighboring Syria.

The last time large numbers took to the streets was a decade ago, after the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hundreds of thousands of people from all sects demonstrated in peaceful rallies that were dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.” Those protests eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a decades-old presence — but sectarian politics quickly returned.

The idea for “You Stink” began on Facebook, and the group has tried to avoid the mistakes of other Arab protest movements by reaching out to existing youth organizations to help coordinate, Jouny said.

Neamat Bader al-Deen is a leftist activist with a group that calls itself “We Want Accountability,” one of several organizations collaborating with the movement. “We are asking the government to resign because it failed to resolve the crises,” the 34-year-old Bader al-Deen said. “We will not let this pass. This is robbery.”

Sarhan said his father initially ridiculed the group’s symbolic protests. But when thousands turned up at the allies last weekend, his father called to offer support. “Keep it up, son,” he says his father said.

At first the veteran politicians ignored the protesters. But after the crowds grew and turned violent over the weekend, the government erected a concrete wall Monday outside its main building to keep them at bay.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government grafitti. On Tuesday, authorities took it down, just 24 hours after it went up. Now, politicians are trying to co-opt the young grass-roots movement. A main Christian party has called on its supporters to join the next “You Stink” protest on Saturday.

“The parties want to spoil the movement … because it is becoming popular and that is scaring them,” Jouny said. She said to ensure the group reflects the mood on the street it scans views on social media before making decisions. Several hundred volunteers have been prepped on strategies to ensure violent clashes don’t erupt at Saturday’s rally, which is being promoted with a video decrying Lebanon’s endemic electricity shortages.

Assad Thebian, one of the country’s best-known bloggers and the winner of an Arab creative digital campaign award, said attempts to stymie the movement will fail. That’s because young men and women fed up with the sectarian system are its backbone, he said.

“They are disgusted with the same political class robbing them, and sucking their blood all their lives, same as their fathers and their grandfathers,” he said. “This is something we want to get rid of. We want to all become children of the state.”

Advertisements

Islamic State in control of Palmyra ruins, activists say

May 21, 2015

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Islamic State militants overran the famed archaeological site at Palmyra early on Thursday, just hours after seizing the central Syrian town, activists and officials said, raising concerns the extremists might destroy some of the priceless ruins as they have done in neighboring Iraq.

The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra late Wednesday was a stunning triumph for the militant group, only days after it captured the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq’s largest Sunni province.

As IS took Palmyra, government forces collapsed in the face of the attacks and Syrian soldiers were seen fleeing the area, activists said. In Damascus, state TV acknowledged that pro-government forces had withdrawn from the town.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremists overrun the archaeological site, just to the southwest of the town itself, shortly after midnight Wednesday.

An activist in Homs who goes by the name of Bebars al-Talawy also confirmed that IS now controls the ruins at Palmyra. Both activists said that the militants had not damaged the site so far. The ruins at Palmyra are one of the world’s most renowned historic sites and there were fears the extremists would destroy them as they did major archaeological sites in Iraq. The UNESCO world heritage site is famous for its 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and other ruins and priceless artifacts. Before the war, thousands of tourists a year visited the remote desert outpost, a cherished landmark referred to by Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert.”

In Damascus, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of the Antiquities and Museum Department, said Palmyra’s town museum had suffered “minor damages” during the IS onslaught. “The city is now totally controlled by gunmen and its destiny is dark and dim,” warned Abdul-Karim. “We are in a state of anticipation and fear” about what will happen to “the archaeological site and the remaining artifacts in the museum.”

Before the fall, hundreds of “the most precious and beautiful” pieces from Palmyra were taken to safe houses in Damascus, he added. Also Thursday, many Palmyra residents were fleeing the town toward the city of Homs and the capital, Damascus, according to Talal Barazi, the governor of the central province of Homs, which includes Palmyra.

The Syrian army is now outside the town, from where it is targeting Islamic State reinforcements, he said. “We have not received any news about (the archaeological site’s) destruction,” Barazi told The Associated Press. “We hope that there will be no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins.”

Palmyra has a population of some 65,000 people, according to Barazi. He added that 1,300 residents fled over the past days and more were trying to leave on Thursday. On Wednesday, the head of the U.N.’s cultural agency called on Syria’s warring factions to immediately end hostilities within the archaeological site.

“I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East and its civilian population,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said in a statement.

She urged all parties to respect international obligations to protect cultural heritage during conflict. In taking Palmyra, IS also overran the town’s notorious Tadmur prison, where thousands of Syrian dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured over the years.

An amateur video posted online showed IS fighters setting a giant poster of President Bashar Assad, allegedly inside the prison in Palmyra, cheering as flames rose around them against the night sky. The video and its location could not be independently verified but appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events.

Al-Talawy, the Homs activist, said the government had recently transferred thousands of detainees from the Palmyra prison to a jail near Damascus. But he added that IS extremists freed some of those who were still inside by the time they captured the prison. He could not provide any definitive figures but there were believed to have been thousands prisoners still there.

The Observatory said that with the capture of Palmyra and surrounding areas in recent weeks, IS now controls half of Syria — and most of the country’s oil wells. Despite the stunning victory by IS in Palmyra and Iraq, the extremists suffered a setback in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh, where they have come under attack by Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish fighters captured much of the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tel Tamr on Wednesday, according to the Observatory and the Kurdish forces known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The Observatory said YPG fighters were backed by airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing IS positions in Syria since September.

Mroue reported from Beirut.

Azeris get Israel UAVs built under license

Baku, Azerbaijan (UPI)

Oct 7, 2011

Azerbaijan is expected to acquire 60 small Israeli-designed unmanned aerial vehicles built under license in the oil-rich former Soviet republic that’s moving closer to the Jewish state as the Baku government modernizes its military.

The burgeoning military and intelligence alliance between the countries is causing growing concern in Iran, Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, and in nearby longtime rival Armenia.

The Israeli Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAVs are being manufactured by Baku’s Azad Systems Co., a joint venture between Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry and Aeronautics Defense Systems of Israel.

That’s the country’s third largest UAV manufacturer after Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.

Around 70 percent of the components are produced in Israel, the rest in Azerbaijan.

Sixty of the drones are to be delivered to Azerbaijan’s armed forces by the end of the year, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Azerbaijan’s military already operates Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and IAI’s Searcher reconnaissance drones, as well as some of Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Aerostar and Orbiter craft.

Azerbaijan Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov told the Azerbaijan Press Agency that Baku is considering the production of missile-armed UAVs within the next two years, a development guaranteed to deepen Iranian and Armenian concerns.

The UAV deal with Azerbaijan allows Israeli manufacturers to pick up some of the slack that appeared when Israel’s strategic military alliance with Turkey collapsed in 2010.

APA reported that Aeronautics Defense Systems beat out several Turkish defense firms, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, for the UAV venture set up in March.

Azerbaijan, which lies in the energy-rich Caspian Basin, has oil reserves of more than 1.2 billion barrels as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is one of Israel’s largest suppliers of crude oil.

Last Sunday, Israel’s air force marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of its first UAV unit, Squadron 200 at the Palmachim Air Base on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv from where IAI satellites are launched.

The squadron was equipped with a drone named the Scout, built by what was then Israel Aircraft Industries, and became operational in October 1981. The Scout made its combat debut in the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

That campaign evolved into a counter-terrorism conflict that has dragged on to this day, even after Israeli withdrew from its last foothold in south Lebanon in May 2000.

In the years since the Scout took to the skies, but particularly after 9/11, Israel has become one of the world’s leading UAV manufacturers, second only to the United States.

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s defense export and defense cooperation arm, known as SIBAT, says Israel’s export of counter-terrorism systems, including UAVs, has risen from $2 billion a year 10 years ago to nearly $7 billion.

Defense experts expect the export of counter-terrorism systems to increase.

“The threats aren’t getting any smaller,” SIBAT Deputy Director Itamar Graff told Bamahane, the armed forces’ magazine.

“We constantly cope with terrorist threats ?The world’s moving in the direction of dealing with terrorist threats.

“On issues such as home front protection, shore security and missile defense, people from around the world come to learn from us,” Graff said.

“We’re dealing with a variety of possible threats and we’ll continue to be a dominant and significant factor in the world.”

The Scout was retired in 2004. It was replaced by, among others, IAI’s Searcher, which carried advanced navigation, communication and sensor systems and is in service with 10 countries.

IAI has since developed the long-endurance, 1-ton Heron that can operate at altitudes of 30,000 feet and can loiter over targets for 24 hours.

The Heron Turbo Prop, known as the Eitan, introduced into military service with Squadron 210 in February 2010, is the air force’s largest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial system.

Its takeoff weight is 5 tons and can carry payloads of 2,200 pounds. It has a wingspan of 84 feet, about the same as a Boeing 737. It can stay airborne for 24 hours and has a range of around 650 miles.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Azeris_get_Israel_UAVs_built_under_license_999.html.

IS ‘executes at least 37 civilians’ in central Syria

March 31, 2015

Beirut (AFP) – The Islamic State jihadist group Tuesday executed at least 37 civilians, including two children, in a raid on a regime-held village in Hama province of central Syria, a monitor said.

IS “executed at least 37 people, including women and children, by burning, beheading, and firing on them” in the village of Mabujeh, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that 44 people were killed and 21 injured in the raid.

Mabujeh, east of the provincial capital Hama, has a population of Sunni Muslims as well as Alawites and Ismailis, minority sects that are offshoots of Shiite Islam.

IS has regularly targeted minority sects in Syria, especially Shiite Muslims it accuses of apostasy, as well as Sunnis who it alleges have violated its interpretation of Islam.

Mabujeh lies near a vital road that serves as the regime’s only link between the central province of Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.

IS militants have repeatedly tried to sever the route.

In late March, the extremist group killed 83 regime soldiers in the region in a bid to gain control over the road.

In northwest Syria, the Observatory said Tuesday, at least 32 people were killed in government air strikes on the city of Idlib in the past 48 hours.

Regime forces lost control of the city Saturday to a coalition of Islamist forces led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

In Geneva, the UN’s human rights office said it was worried about the situation in the city.

“We are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Idlib” after the rebel takeover, spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said at a briefing.

Pouilly said the UN was concerned about reports of an attack on a hospital run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the city.

Syria’s Red Crescent published photos of destruction at its Idlib hospital on Facebook, but did not give details on how it had been damaged.

Pouilly also voiced UN concerns over the fate of Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages near Idlib city.

One of the leaders of the Islamist coalition that captured Idlib warned Sunday that the two villages would be targeted if the regime bombed Idlib.

Syria’s conflict began with peaceful demonstrations in 2011 but has since spiralled into a bloody civil war that has left more than 215,000 people dead.

Hezbollah throws weight behind protests, deepening crisis

August 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah threw its weight Tuesday behind mass protests calling for the government’s resignation, deepening a crisis that started over piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of the capital but has tapped into a much deeper malaise.

The explosion of anger targets the endemic corruption, hapless government and sectarian divisions of a brittle country once torn by civil war and now struggling with a wave of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

A grassroots youth movement calling itself “You Stink” mobilized thousands of people in two rallies over the weekend, and has called for another large protest on Saturday. The Hezbollah announcement of support for the protests is likely to fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain.

Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday meant to discuss the worsening garbage crisis. Prime Minister Tammam Salam called the emergency session after the weekend clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting corruption and poor public services.

The six ministers withdrew four hours into the meeting. Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, whose Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with Hezbollah, said he was pulling out because of the political “theater” surrounding the trash issue.

During the Cabinet session, ministers unanimously rejected the winning bidders to manage Beirut’s trash collection, citing high costs and a bidding procedure some said was questionable. The Cabinet tasked a ministerial committee with restarting the bidding, meaning no imminent solution to the crisis was likely.

Salam suggested dumping the garbage in the remote, impoverished region of Akkar, which has been neglected for decades, in exchange for $100 million in development projects as an incentive. That further riled the protesters. “Akkar is not a garbage dump!” read the slogan on one protester’s T-shirt.

The trash crisis has exacerbated the long-existing fault lines in Lebanon which in recent years have pitted the Iranian-backed Hezbollah against the country’s Western-aligned, pro-Saudi camp. Those divisions mirror the larger regional Shiite-Sunni divide, and have long paralyzed the government.

Although Salam’s government has elements from both camps, Hezbollah regards the prime minister as an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite group’s ally, Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been assailing the prime minister over his handling of Cabinet and security appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah said the garbage crisis reflected the “endemic and accumulated corruption of the past two decades” and policies that only serve “personal and political interests at the expense of citizens.” It said holding peaceful protests was a legitimate right.

A columnist in the daily An-Nahar newspaper accused Hezbollah of exploiting the “You Stink” movement for its own agenda. Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old “You Stink” supporter, said there would always be groups that try to manipulate grass-roots movements for their own political gains in a country like Lebanon.

The protesters say they are fed up with leaders they accuse of caring only about lining their own pockets and a system they say ensures incessant bickering and paralysis. They contend the entire trash crisis is about which politicians get the bigger cut from waste management contracts.

Meanwhile, the political paralysis continues. The country’s politicians have been unable to decide on a president, a post reserved for a Christian in a sectarian power-sharing system, for over a year. According to that system, the prime minister must be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. The current parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has been in his post for 23 years.

Parliament has extended its term twice without elections and has been paralyzed because some lawmakers insist a president be elected first. Government has not made any substantial decisions as rival parties bicker over the decision-making process in Cabinet in the absence of a president to preside over the sessions.

Anger about the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut’s streets boiled over this week, with thousands protesting the government’s failure to deliver basic services. The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti. “State of Shabiha,” one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man’s body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: “The shroud of the state.”

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed. “They won’t fool us by removing the wall,” said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. “Remove it or not, we don’t care. We want… an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state,” he said.

“This is a corrupt government, an immoral government that is starving us and conspiring against the people,” said Hassan Qatayesh, who suffered an injured jaw when he was struck by rocks during Saturday’s protest.

“They raised the wall to protect themselves from the people, thinking that this wall will prevent our voices from reaching them. But our voices are louder than walls, tear gas and rubber bullets.”

Protesters pour into Beirut demanding government resignation

August 23, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of protesters poured into central Beirut on Sunday demanding that the country’s top politicians resign, hours after Prime Minister Tammam Salam hinted he might step down following violent protests triggered by a monthlong trash crisis.

The demonstrations, the largest in years, railed against the corruption and dysfunction that has brought about Lebanon’s current political crisis. The country does not have a functioning Cabinet or parliament, and hasn’t had a president for more than a year.

Salam said in a news conference at the government’s headquarters that if this Thursday’s Cabinet meeting is not productive, “then there is no need for the council of ministers.” Lebanon has a sectarian power-sharing system that ensures equal representation between the country’s main religious sects. The arrangement often leads to complete paralysis.

It was not clear why Salam would hint about resignation. It was unlikely that he would step down, as the move could create a total political vacuum and plunge Lebanon into chaos. By Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters chanting “revolution” massed near the government building, demanding that Salam resign immediately.

“The people want to topple the regime!” protesters cried out, a slogan used during the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region. Waving Lebanese flags and chanting, they stood in front of a ring of barbed wire that separated them from government headquarters and riot police. Two trucks with water cannons stood ready.

The mood in central Beirut was tense, one day after dozens were wounded after security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons on protesters. Saturday’s demonstrations were by far the largest since garbage began piling up on the streets after the capital’s main landfill was closed a month ago. Bickering politicians have been unable to agree on an alternative system for waste management.

Residents in this proud Mediterranean city have resorted to burning trash on the streets and dumping garbage into valleys, rivers and near the sea, leading to warnings of a health catastrophe. An online group calling itself “You Stink!” and other civil society groups organized the rallies, urging others to join them in a revolt against a corrupt system.

“You Stink!” issued a statement Sunday afternoon calling on Salam to resign immediately, saying, “Our patience has run out.” The group called for a demonstration at 6 p.m. (1500 gmt) in front of the government headquarters.

In what appears to be an attempt to calm down protesters, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk said the name of the consortium that will be in charge of waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon will be announced on Monday, a day ahead of schedule. Machnouk’s statement was carried by state-run National News Agency.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014. Parliament has been paralyzed and unable to meet to elect a president because of lack of quorum. Meanwhile, in southern Lebanon, sporadic clashes continued in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon between Islamists and the mainstream Fatah movement.

The fighting which began Saturday in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp killed three people and wounded 20, according to Lebanese security officials.

Syria releases prominent activist jailed for over 3 years

August 10, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian authorities on Monday released an award-winning human rights activist after more than three years in jail in a rare goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad’s government amid intense diplomatic maneuvering to end the country’s civil war.

The release of Mazen Darwish was welcomed by activists as a positive development amid Syria’s daily carnage. An outspoken critic of the government’s crackdown on protests that erupted against Assad’s rule in March 2011, he became a symbol of the battle for human rights in Syria following his detention less than a year later.

Amnesty International said Darwish should never have been jailed in the first place and called on the government to halt its campaign targeting those who dare speak about the “appalling human rights violations” in Syria.

Darwish was the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression when he was arrested in February 2012 in a Damascus security raid, along with two of his colleagues, Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir. The organization confirmed his release on Monday but said he is still standing trial and is scheduled to attend a court hearing on Aug. 30. His two colleagues were released last month.

“After an arbitrary arrest that lasted three years, five months and 23 days, Mazen Darwish has been released from prison today,” the group said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from the government, which continues to hold thousands of political prisoners, according to human rights groups.

The Syria that Darwish steps into when he leaves prison is drastically different than the one he knew more than three years ago. What began as an Arab Spring-style uprising against Assad’s rule became a full-blown civil war and the country has sunk into chaos.

The conflict, now in its fifth year, has killed at least 250,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the population, according to the United Nations. The Islamic State group, which emerged as an al-Qaida splinter group and is now its main rival, has seized about a third of both Syria and Iraq.

Darwish’s release comes amid stepped-up diplomatic activity aimed at finding a political way out of the conflict. Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran, are trying to set the stage — following the Iran nuclear deal — for a political transition in Syria. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia also appear to be more inclined to engage with the Iranian-backed government of Assad on ways to end the war. Although he still clings to power and is unlikely to step aside, Assad’s enormous territorial losses may also be pushing him to explore diplomatic options to resolve the crisis.

It was not clear if Darwish’s release was directly related to the diplomatic activity. He has been standing trial on charges of “promoting terrorist acts,” and his organization said his release followed an amnesty issued last month by Assad that supposedly covered his case. But he still has to appear in court end of the month.

“Darwish and his colleagues should never have been in jail in the first place. His release today is long overdue, but comes as a welcome relief after three and half years of anguish and uncertainty,” said Said Boumedouha, chief of Amnesty’s Mideast and North Africa program.

“The Syrian authorities must drop all charges against Mazen and his colleagues and end their relentless campaign to target anyone who dares to speak out about the appalling human rights violations in the country,” added Boumedouha.

Well-known opposition figure Kamal Labwani, who spent long years in jail in Syria and now lives in Sweden, said Damascus used Darwish as “a hostage” in order to portray his release as a goodwill gesture.

“A good will gesture for what,” Labwani said over the telephone. “His right was to be free.” Mahmoud Merei, who heads the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said the release was a “good step.” Speaking by telephone from Damascus, Merei said “political detention should end in Syria and we hope that this decision will be followed by similar ones.”

International human rights and press freedoms organizations, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have long called on the Syrian government to release Darwish. The United Nations also called for his release.

In February, 71 human rights groups called on the Syrian government to immediately free Darwish and his colleagues. Their joint statement came on the third anniversary of their arrest and described Darwish’s trial as “nothing more than a sham and a deep miscarriage of justice.”

In April, Darwish won the UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of the work that he has carried out in Syria “for more than 10 years at great personal sacrifice, enduring a travel ban, harassment, as well as repeated detention and torture.”

In October 2014, Indian-born author Salman Rushdie shared the 2014 PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Award with Darwish. According to the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, Darwish is also the winner of the Reporters Without Borders award in 2013.