Syria arrests prominent blogger, leading activist as crackdown ensues


Prominent Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi was arrested on Thursday in Damascus along with rights activist Mazen Darwish and 12 others, opposition figure Loay Hussein told AFP news agency.

Darwish heads the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Hussein said the reason for the arrests was unclear.

“At about 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), Syrian security forces arrested him [Darwish] along with his wife and an employee,” Hussein said.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni said Ghazzawi was arrested in an early afternoon raid on the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, which is located in central Damascus and is headed by Darwish.

“We at the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies condemn these arrests and call on Syrian authorities to immediately release them,” Bunni said in a statement.

U.N. vote

The crackdown came as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian regime to stop killing civilians and said potential crimes against humanity were taking place in the country.

“What is important at this time is that first the Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people,” Ban told journalists on a visit to Vienna, when asked about Syria’s intention to hold a referendum on a new constitution.

“And this violence should stop from all sides whether by national security forces or by opposition forces,” he went on.

“We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity,” he told reporters after meeting Austrian President Heinz Fischer on Thursday.

“I urge the international community to speak in one voice: stop the violence. Stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“The longer we debate, the more people will die.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly set to vote later on Thursday on a measure condemning repression in Syria, just days after Russia and China jointly vetoed a similar text in the U.N. Security Council.

Earlier, the opposition rejected a newly drafted constitution that could end nearly five decades of single-party rule and urged voters to boycott a referendum on it, a day after Assad called a vote on the charter for Feb. 26.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a main opposition activist group, called for a vote boycott and stepped up efforts to oust Assad.

The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, another opposition group, said it also planned to boycott the vote given the ongoing violence.

The LCC reported that 63 people had been killed by security force gunfire across Syria on Wednesday, according to Al Arabiya television.

Rights groups say more than 6,000 people have been killed since regime forces began cracking down on democracy protests launched on Mar. 15 last year.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday it fears security forces carried out a massacre in the province of Daraa, where dozens of civilians disappeared after being cornered in a valley.

“There are fears regime forces carried out a massacre in Sahm al-Julan,” the Britain-based group said in an emailed statement to AFP, referring to a village in the southern province, cradle of an 11-month revolt in Syria.

It said that, on Wednesday night, troops backed by heavy military equipment launched an assault on the village, terrorizing residents who fled to a nearby valley where rebel soldiers had been hiding.

“The defectors retreated from the area, fearing for the safety of the civilians chased by Syrian troops, who surrounded them with the apparent aim of carrying out a massacre,” the Observatory said.