Syrian journalist and Al Hayat contributor Amer Matar was arrested by Syrian security forces on September 3 in Damascus, likely for his role in aiding anti-regime activists. Matar suspected that his life was in danger, emailing his will to a friend several days prior to his arrest. He worked closely with youth groups advocating for peaceful demonstrations, and used Facebook to encourage others to participate in demonstrations. Matar was also arrested in April 2011 and held for more than half of month without being charged before he was released.
Government forces have killed an estimated 2,200 people as violence escalates with attacks by the Syrian army. Freedom of expression and press freedom has come under threat, as cultural figures, activists and journalists face kidnappings, arrest and murder. Laws also criminalize publishing materials threatening national unity or tarnishing the image of the state. In July 2011, the composer of an “anti-regime” song, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, was killed and had his vocal chords removed. In August 2011 after publishing a satirical cartoon about Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was attacked by masked men who broke both of his hands in an effort to prevent him from drawing. President Assad has ignored international pleas to cease attacks on civilians, and his forces continue to use small arms and heavy weapons against Syrian citizens.
Freedom House condemns the arrest of Matar and calls for his release. The attacks, arrests and murders of activists and journalists are a clear indication of the dangerous and growing threat to freedom of speech, expression and press in Syria.