Help Free Jailed Syrian Writer Raghdah Sa’id Hassan
Each week we will feature an article, a cause, an event, or an organization that is as equally dedicated to celebrating freedom of expression and supporting persecuted poets and novelists worldwide.
Lucy Popescu is the co-editor of the PEN anthology Another Sky (Profile Books). Her latest book, The Good Tourist (Arcadia Books) is about human rights and ethical travel. She writes a monthly column about persecuted writers in Literary Review and her book reviews have appeared in Tribune Magazine and the Independent. She also contributes to the arts blog on Guardian Online and reviews theatre.
Syria is largely talked about in terms of its strategic importance or strained relations with the United States, and what is often forgotten is the state’s repression of its own people. The press is muzzled and opponents of the regime are swiftly silenced. Political activists, human rights defenders and government critics face constant harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention. Every year scores of teachers and students are expelled from universities, or arrested, for the peaceful practice of their right to freedom of expression.
The latest victim to fall foul of Syria’s repressive laws is Raghdah Sa’id Hassan, a 38-year-old writer who was arrested on 10 February for trying to publish a novel that describes political conditions in Syria during the 1990s. She has been held incommunicado since her arrest. Like many other prisoners of conscience detained in Syria, the young writer is at particular risk of ill-treatment, including torture.
Hassan was arrested on the Syrian side of the al-Arida border with Lebanon, where she was travelling by car. It is believed that she is now being held at the Political Security branch in Tartus, a city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
Three days after her arrest, Hassan’s flat was ransacked, apparently by the security forces, since there were no signs of a break-in. A paper printout of Hassan’s unpublished novel, The New Prophets (a love story involving two Syrian prisoners), was confiscated, together with some publications by various Syrian opposition political parties.
The Syrian authorities have not yet announced any charges against Hassan. But both PEN and Amnesty believe that her arrest is linked to her intention to publish her novel and to suspicions that she is active in an opposition party. During the last three months of 2009, she was repeatedly questioned by Political Security. They demanded she sign a statement that she would not publish her novel, but she refused to do so.
Readers might like to send appeals expressing serious concern about the incommunicado detention of Raghdah Sa’id Hassan, and seeking information on the charges against her; expressing concern that she is being held in violation of her right to free expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and seeking assurances that she is not being tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention.
President Bashar al-Assad
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: 963 11 332 3410
Please send copies to diplomatic representatives in your country.