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Prominent Syrian human rights activist released from prison

A prominent Syrian human rights activist who spent more than three years in jail for reporting on the government's crackdown on protesters has been released.

Mazen Darwish was the director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression when he was arrested in February 2012 in a Damascus security raid, along with two of his colleagues.

The organisation confirmed his release but said he is still standing trial and is scheduled to attend a court hearing on August 30.

"After an arbitrary arrest that lasted three years, five months, and 23 days, Mazen Darwish has released from prison today," the group said in a statement.

Mr Darwish was an outspoken critic of the government's crackdown on protests that erupted against President Bashar Assad's rule in March 2011. He was one of the rare journalists who dared publish details of arbitrary arrests and violations by policy and security forces.

He has been standing trial on charges of "publicising terrorist acts".

What began as an Arab Spring-style uprising against Assad's rule became a full-blown civil war in Syria. The conflict, now in its fifth year, has killed at least 250,000 people and wounded more than a million, according to the United Nations.

International human rights and press freedoms organisations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have long called on the Syrian government to release Mr Darwish. The United Nations also called for his release.

In February, on the third anniversary of their arrest, 71 human rights groups called on the Syrian government to immediately free Mr Darwish and his colleagues Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir.

At the time, the joint statement described his trial as "nothing more than a sham and a deep miscarriage of justice".

In April, Mr Darwish won the Unesco's World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of the work that he has carried out in Syria "for more than 10 years at great personal sacrifice, enduring a travel ban, harassment, as well as repeated detention and torture" .

According to the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, he is also winner of the Reporters Without Borders award in 2013.

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