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Syrian media activist, famous blogger arrested, activists say

February 16, 2012 | 12:57 pm

Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi

Syrian opposition activists say government forces Thursday arrested a prominent activist and journalist  along with a well-known blogger and more than a dozen other journalists and activists.

The arrests of Mazen Darwish, who heads the Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression in Damascus, and blogger Razan Ghazzawi alarmed press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, which called for their immediate release.

Darwish and Ghazzawi have been detained by police before. No information was immediately available about the reasons for their arrests.

"Anyone giving information to international media or international NGOs may be targeted," said Soazig Dollet, Middle East and North Africa researcher for Reporters Without Borders. She said in the past, arrested Syrian journalists have been interrogated, tortured and kept in solitary confinement.

Darwish and his organization track the detention and injuries of journalists in Syria. In November, Darwish received an award for his work from the Munich, Germany-based Roland Berger Foundation.

The group praised him as "an undaunted champion of human rights for many years," saying he had a reputation as one of the few credible sources on developments in Syria.

Last year, Darwish complained to the magazine Syria Today that despite claims of reform, the country lacked truly independent media because the government controlled operating licenses.

"Only the executive authority has the competence to produce media, and consequently it controls the first threshold of media freedom of expression," Darwish said.

Ghazzawi, who was born in the United States, is known as an outspoken opponent of the regime. In December, her friend Jillian York wrote in the Guardian newspaper that Ghazzawi had written anonymously when the Syrian uprising began, but later decided to use her own name.

Syria has been racked by an uprising against President Bashar Assad for nearly a year. Opposition activists and U.S. officials say the government has cracked down brutally on government opponents and ordinary people caught in the middle; the Syrian government says it is under attack by armed terrorists.

Reporters Without Borders says at least two dozen journalists, bloggers and other media workers are in detention in Syria, including the people arrested Thursday.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi at an undisclosed location in May 2011. Credit: Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression

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