After spending more than three years in prison, prominent human rights activist Mazen Darwish was released Monday from prison pending a final verdict in his case later this month, Darwish's wife said, according to Agence France Presse (AFP). Darwish was imprisoned for reporting on a government crackdown on protesters in a 2012 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"He has been freed ahead of a final verdict in his case on August 21," Darwish's wife Yara Bader told AFP. Darwish was the director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression before he was arrested, along with two colleagues, in February of 2012 during a raid, reported the Associated Press. The organization confirmed that Darwish was released but is scheduled to attend a court hearing at the end of the month.
"After an arbitrary arrest that lasted three years, five months, and 23 days, Mazen Darwish has released from prison today," the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, according to the AP.
Darwish is still standing trial and is scheduled to make an appearance in court on Aug. 30. The activist was a vocal critic of the government crackdown on protests against Assad's rule that began in 2011, along with his colleagues Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani. Ghreir and al-Zaitani were given amnesty and released from prison last month in recognition of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr. Darwish and his colleagues had been accused of promoting "terrrorist acts."
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Bader told AFP that Darwish was supposed to receive the same amnesty as Ghreir and al-Zaitani, but his release was delayed. Darwish was one of the few journalists who published details of arbitrary arrests and violations by security forces, and was honored with UNESCO's World Press Freedom Prize in April for carrying out his work "for more than 10 years at great personal sacrifice, enduring a travel ban, harassment, as well as repeated detention and torture," the AP reported.
The protests that began as an uprising against Assad have morphed into outright civil war in Syria. The conflict in its fifth year has killed at least 250,000 people. Darwish commented from Damascus Central Prison on life outside the facility and the continuing conflict in Syria.
“Though, there is no greater happiness for a prisoner than the knowledge that the outer world is remembering him, as devastation and bloodshed has engulfed my homeland, happiness has become a kind of luxury for which I feel ashamed,” he said according to activist group Free Syria's Silenced Voices.
Humans rights and press freedom groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have long called for Darwish's release, as did the United Nations. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that about 200,000 people are being held in Syrian government detention centers, prisons and security facilities, via AFP.