Children play in an inflatable castle in the rebel-held city of Douma, Syria, June 26, 2017. (Reuters/Bassem Khabieh)
Children play in an inflatable castle in the rebel-held city of Douma, Syria, June 26, 2017. (Reuters/Bassem Khabieh)

Court sentences two Syrian journalists for blasphemy, shutters magazine

The Court of First Instance of the Second Criminal Court of the Syrian city of Douma, which is under the control of the rebel group the Army of Islam, on July 11, 2017, sentenced Shawkat Gharz al-Din, a journalist for Rising for Freedom, and Laila Safadi, the editor of the magazine, to two months in prison on blasphemy charges stemming from Gharz al-Din’s February 21 article entitled, “Hold me, Dad,” according to the magazine and regional press freedom groups.

The journalists were sentenced in absentia. Safadi said in a statement that they could appeal the sentence but had not yet done so.

The court in Douma, which is 10 kilometers northeast of Damascus, also banned the magazine in rebel-held areas and acquitted Osama Nassar, co-editor-in-chief of the magazine, the reports said. The court, citing international legal limitations on free speech, found that by publishing the article, Rising for Freedom ignored the feelings of Muslims worldwide and violated laws prohibiting blasphemy and defaming religions.

The court found the article, “Hold me, Dad”–which was inspired by images of 10-year-old Abdul Basit al-Satouf crying for help from his father after having lost his legs in the February 17 bombing of the village of Al-Habit–blasphemous based on the line, “The helplessness of God, the civilization, and the state cannot be explained, because it is a moral helplessness, and accordingly, thousands of people, the state, and God did not take on their assumed role in protecting their people, and we ended up living in a state where God is merciless,” according to Rising for Freedom.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Supreme Judicial Council of eastern Ghouta, also under the control of the Army of Islam, had ordered Rising for Freedom‘s office, which it shared with the human rights groups Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) and the Network of Guardians, closed on March 8, 2017, based on the same blasphemy charges , news reports and press freedom groups said.

According to news reports and Rising for Freedom, the publication of the article sparked demonstrations in front of the magazine’s office in Douma on March 8 demanding that the magazine close and the author be held accountable. That same day, the Directorate of Bab al-Hawa border crossing, also controlled by the Army of Islam, banned copies of the magazine, which is printed in Turkey, in rebel-held areas in Syria. The magazine apologized for the publication of the article and deleted it from its website in response.