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Syria: UN official concerned over news of journalist’s death in detention

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
UNESCO/Dov Lynch
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

Syria: UN official concerned over news of journalist’s death in detention

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed grave concern about recent news that Syrian journalist Ayham Mostafa Ghazzoul died while in detention last November.

According to international freedom of expression organizations, Mr. Ghazzoul died from injuries sustained under torture. He was a contributor to the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. The 26-year-old post-graduate student died at the air force intelligence headquarters, four days after his arrest.

“It is important that light be shed on the circumstances of this tragic incident and that all parties to the conflict taking place in Syria respect the civilian status of all journalists and their right to freedom of expression,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

According to the non-governmental Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), conditions for the press deteriorated severely since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in early 2011.

The organization, which presented its yearly assessment of the state of press freedom worldwide at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York today, ranked Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for the press in 2012. It said that although many of the fatalities were at the hands of Government forces, numerous attacks against journalists or news outlets seen as pro-government were attributed to rebel forces.

More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the crisis in Syria began nearly three years ago. Since the start of the fighting, Ms. Bokova has condemned the killing of 46 citizen and professional journalists, including Mr. Ghazzoul.

Efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement to the crisis continue. Yesterday a delegation from the Damascus office of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States for Syria, visited the town of Yabroud in Rif Damascus.

Led by the head of office, Mokhtar Lamani, the team met with the Commander of the Military Revolutionary Council in the Qalamoun area and representatives of the civil administration and local coordination committee of Yabroud, in addition to civil and religious community leaders.

“The purpose of the visit was to establish communication with various stakeholders from the opposition forces and to have a better understanding about the dynamics of the conflict and the reaction to the different political initiatives,” UN spokesperson Eduardo Del Buey told reporters in New York.

Earlier this week, the Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, held a meeting in Cairo with Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al-Khatib during which they discussed the latter’s proposal for a political dialogue.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mr. Brahimi have welcomed Mr. Al-Khatib’s “openness and readiness” to talk with representatives of the Syrian Government, according to Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

“The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to end the violence and resolve the conflict through negotiations and a credible process that would lead to a real change, a clear break from the past, and fulfil the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people,” the spokesperson added.