Out of jail, journalist maintains hunger strike to protest house arrest

New York, May 7, 2001 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed the release of Syrian journalist and human rights activist Nizar Nayyouf, who was taken by police from prison to his parents’ home Sunday night after serving nine years of a 10-year sentence for his conviction of membership in an unauthorized organization and disseminating false information.

However, CPJ executive director Ann Cooper expressed dismay that Syrian authorities apparently intend to keep Nayyouf under house arrest, denying his demand to leave the country for badly needed medical treatment. Cooper urged an immediate end to the restrictions, saying that “Nizar Nayyouf has suffered enormously, and unjustifiably, for his writing, and should now be allowed to freely seek the medical care that was long denied him.”

CPJ spoke by telephone today with Nayyouf, who was at his parents’ home in Lattakia. In the telephone conversation Nayyouf said that he will continue a hunger strike, begun on April 24, until the house arrest is lifted and he is allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Nayyouf suffered torture when Syrian authorities first interrogated him, and during his imprisonment he has been denied medical treatment for serious ailments, including cancer, kidney failure, and deteriorating eyesight. He suffers partial paralysis of his lower extremities, a result of torture.

Nayyouf is a former free-lance journalist who was a leading member of the independent Committees for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF), and editor of CDF’s monthly publication Sawt al-Democratiyya. He was arrested in January 1992 and later convicted by the Supreme State Security Court on charges of belonging to an unauthorized organization and disseminating false information. During his imprisonment he was held in Sidnaya, Mezze, and Tadmor prisons.

He has been awarded the 2000 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, and was the recipient of the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom award.