It is also alarmed by the reported mass arrests and disappearances of civilians including journalists, bloggers, writers and activists. It continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Syria in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Syria is a signatory, and demands an immediate end to the use of violence to suppress peaceful dissent.
John Ralston Saul, PEN International’s President, says, ‘In the midst of such violence and so many deaths, governments tend to forget the writers and the central role of freedom of expression. There cannot be progress in Syria if there is no capacity to speak and debate without being killed. Daily we hear of our friends and colleagues suffering. And their suffering is part of the breakdown of any sort of normal societal relationships in Syria.’

Anti-government protests were sparked in mid-March 2011 and have since spread across the country. Mass arrests have been taking place and security officers have responded to the continuing protests with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators, and bombarding opposition stronghold areas with mortar bombs and rockets. Thousands of civilians have reportedly been killed and many more wounded. Protestors continue to demand political reform and to call upon President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Syrian authorities continue to suppress these protests with force, often indiscriminately, despite promises to end the violence.

With the internet and media already severely curtailed in recent years, the Syrian authorities have imposed even greater restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in reaction to recent events. Most foreign reporters and correspondents have been asked to leave the country and access to any independent media is denied.

A statement<; by Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: [email protected]&lt;mailto:[email protected]&gt;