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US hails Syria activist release, calls for charges dropped

The US State Department on Monday welcomed the release of Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish, and demanded the immediate release of tens of thousands of people it said were being held without fair trials.



Washington: The US State Department on Monday welcomed the release of Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish, and demanded the immediate release of tens of thousands of people it said were being held without fair trials.

The State Department called for all charges dropped against Darwish, the director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) who was arrested in February 2012 along with two of his colleagues.

"We note reports that while Mazen Darwish is no longer incarcerated, we understand that he still faces trial for his work as a human rights activist," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

"We call on the Syrian regime to drop all remaining charges against Mazen Darwish."

Darwish`s colleagues Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani were freed last month.

Kirby also called for the "immediate release" of others in Syria, and condemned the mistreatment of prisoners.

"The United States strongly condemns the imprisonment by the regime of tens of thousands of Syrians without fair trials, including women, children, doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, journalists, and others who it routinely subjects to torture, sexual violence, and inhumane conditions," the statement said.

Darwish, a prominent critic of the Syrian regime, was accused of "promoting terrorist acts" and is expected to receive a verdict on August 31, his wife Yara Bader told AFP.

Darwish, who is in his early 40s, has received multiple awards acknowledging his work, including in May, UNESCO`s annual press freedom prize and the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in 2011.

Syria`s conflict began in March 2011 and has left more than 240,000 people dead.

Some 200,000 people are held in Syrian government detention centres, prisons and security facilities, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

In 2014, President Bashar al-Assad signed an amnesty that was supposed to see tens of thousands of political prisoners freed, but rights activists say only several hundred were actually released.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss the situation in Syria, and the possibility of resuming a political process to resolve the four-year-old conflict.

Kirby said the "discussions are explorative in nature."

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