A military police officer is seen in Damascus, Syria, on May 26, 2021. Security forces recently arrested journalist Bassam Safar at a checkpoint in Damascus. (Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

Syrian security forces arrest journalist Bassam Safar at Damascus checkpoint

New York, June 30, 2021 – Syrian authorities should disclose their rationale for arresting journalist Bassam Safar, as well as the location where he is being held, or else release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 24, Syrian government security forces arrested Safar, an editor on cultural topics for the North Press Agency, a news website supportive of the Syrian Democratic Forces opposition group, when he arrived at the Bab Sharqi checkpoint in eastern Damascus en route to his home, according to news reports, a statement by the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, and statements by his employer and Syria’s banned opposition Communist Labor Party, of which Safar is a member.

Authorities have not disclosed the reason for his arrest or where he is being held, according to those sources. CPJ emailed the Syrian Interior Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply. 

“Given the Syrian government’s record of arbitrary arrests, mistreatment, and torture of detainees, the recent arrest of journalist Bassam Safar is particularly worrying,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative, Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Syrian authorities must immediately disclose their reasons for his arrest, or release Safar unconditionally at once.”

The North Press Agency and Communist Labor Party reports state that, earlier in June, authorities held Safar for two days after he returned to Damascus from the city of Qamishli, but did not state any reason for that detention.

Safar was imprisoned from 1986 and 1991 because of his affiliation with the Communist Labor Party, according to those reports.

According to those news reports, Safar had recently met with officials from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a leftist opposition umbrella group of which he is a member of the executive committee, to discuss the country’s presidential elections.

President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in those elections in May, which international observers condemned as fraudulent, with 95 percent of the vote, according to reports.  

Safar’s recent work at the North Press Agency includes a series of interviews with human rights lawyers about documenting abuses in the country, activist Fadwa Mahmoud about her alleged abuse in government detention, and exiled author and human rights activist Mozn Murshid.