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Israel-Syria / Arbitrary detention of the journalist Atta Farhat

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Syrian Center for Media and
Freedom of Expression
Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur
United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention
Mr. Ambeyi LIGABO, UN Special Rapporteur
on the promotion and protection
of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Paris-Damascus, 11 October 2007
Re: Israel-Syria / Arbitrary detention of the journalist Atta Farhat
Dear Madam, dear Sir,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its partner organisation – the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), mandated by the family and lawyers of Mr. Atta Farhat, would like to share their concerns regarding the arbitrary arrest and detention of the journalist Atta Farhat by special units of the Israeli police (Al ysam) and hereby request the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to take urgent action on this matter.

Mr. Atta Farhat, 35 years old, a Syrian journalist, residing in the Syrian region of the Golan, occupied by Israel since 1967 and annexed to the Israeli territory in 1981 in violation of resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, was arrested on 30 July 2007 by special units of the Israeli occupation police.

Mr. Farhat, was born in Buka’ata, a village in the Golan and graduated in Damascus University College. A member of the Union of Syrian journalists, Mr. Farhat is a reporter for the Syrian newspaper Al Watan, Syrian special correspondent for the Syrian TV and Chief Editor of the Golan Times. Following the annexation, Syrian citizens living in the Golan, under the Israeli law may be prosecuted should they have any contact with the Syrian press or TV. Mr. Farhat is the first journalist from the Golan, since 1967, who has contacts with the Syrian media and who publishes in the Syrian media articles describing the life conditions of Syrians living in the Occupied Golan.

At 5 am on 30 July 2007, special units of the Israeli occupation police stormed into his home, searched it, confiscated his computer and mobile phone and arrested him. Two days later, Israeli courts approved the Israeli police’s decision to keep Mr. Farhat in prison. Today he is still held in the Israeli prison of Al Jamala, 14 kms at the South East of Haifa. He was brought several times before an investigating judge. He has not been charged yet with any offence and awaits his next appearance before a judge. As of today, the investigating judge has rejected his request of release.

The reasons of his detention have not been made public yet and the defence lawyers as well as the Israeli press are prohibited from publicising the case. But according to SCM Atta Farhat may be prosecuted for “entertaining relationships with an enemy nation”.

FIDH and SCM condemn the Israeli authorities’ attempt to isolate the occupied Syrian Golan from the outside world and to deprive the Syrian people of Golan of the right to express their opinion. More specifically FIDH and SCM consider that the arrest and detention of Atta Farhat is arbitrary and is directly linked to the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights1.

We hope that the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression will be able to take action, as soon as possible, and raise the issue with the Israeli authorities.

We thank you in advance for your attention. Please do not hesitate to get in contact with us should you need additional information.

Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen
President of FIDH
Mazen Darwich
President of SCM

1 Article 19 of the UDHR provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

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