Syrian Center for Media and Free Expression joins IPI

Monitoring and rights group led by World Press Freedom Hero Mazen Darwish

The International Press Institute (IPI) is pleased to welcome the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), an NGO dedicated to protecting media freedom and supporting journalists’ rights in Syria, as an institutional member.

SCM was founded in 2004 by renowned Syrian journalist and human rights defender Mazen Darwish and regularly reported on free speech violations and journalists’ working conditions, collecting and publicising the disappearances of journalists and bloggers until Feb. 2012, when Syrian intelligence agents raided the Center’s Damascus offices and arrested Darwish and 12 staff members.

Darwish was jailed on spurious terrorism charges and spent nearly three-and-a-half years behind bars, enduring grave ill-treatment and torture.

In March 2015, IPI honoured Darwish as its 2015 World Press Freedom Hero at a ceremony during IPI’s World Congress in Yangon, Myanmar. Darwish’s wife and current SCM director, Yara Bader, accepted the award on his behalf.

SCM’s activities were substantially reduced following the 2012 raid and Darwish’s imprisonment. It functioned largely on a voluntary basis until operations were relaunched in mid-2016.

Today, the Center is once again active in promoting “democracy, fundamental rights, and transitional justice in Syria.” Operating largely out of Berlin, SCM works both inside Syria and with Syrians in neighbouring countries and in Europe.

Talking about SCM’s current activities to promote freedom of expression and the development of an independent and professional media in Syria, Bader told IPI that SCM, through its Journalists’ House programme, “supports media workers in Syria through a series of mechanisms,” providing legal aid and facilitating access to financial assistance and other support mechanisms.

“We also provide digital security assistance … [and] advocate for media workers’ rights,” she commented.

Additionally, the Center’s Hate and Violence Speech Observatory programme monitors the use of hate speech and incitement to violence and terrorism in Syrian media. The programme aims to reduce such speech’s destructive impact on Syrian society by supporting “journalism ethics” and “professionalism” among Syria’s media outlets.

SCM’s work in 2017 will “focus on media worker and outlet protection and safety”, Bader said. To that end, she added, “we will push for further international protection measures for journalists in cooperation with international partners”.

Bader said she believed it was important that SCM join IPI and its global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, commenting that IPI has “excellent experience in advocacy”.

“[When] three members of SCM were in prison, including the head of the center, IPI helped a lot [to gain his release],” she recounted. “We hope to achieve more cooperation with IPI on an advocacy level.”

IPI’s international network of committed media representatives provides “a great chance to talk, work together, cooperate and exchange experience with all IPI members,” Bader added.