CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Syria

Live rating: Closed

Last updated on 18.02.2019 at 06:47

Syria Overview

In 2016, there is probably no deadlier place to be a civil society activist than in Syria. More than five years of civil war has almost totally destroyed all protections for civil society organisations and human rights defenders in the country.

read more

from the news feed

view the news feed
HRD and media activist killed, government found culpable for killing of foreign correspondent

HRD and media activist killed, government found culpable for killing of foreign correspondent

Association

On 23rd November 2018, human rights defender Raed Fares and media activist Hamoud Jneed were shot dead by unknown assailants in Kafranbel, in a rebel-held area near Idlib, northwestern Syria, according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Fares, an activist who also founded the Kafranbel Media Centre, was well-known for his peaceful protests against the war, and for his popular broadcasts on his radio station “Radio fresh". Fares was a popular local protest leader who campaigned for education, democracy, the rights of women and children and an end to the carnage of the war. Fares, 46 years old, leaves behind three sons. His friend Jneed was a media activist and a photographer. A previous assassination attempt on 29th January 2014 was unsuccessful, which Fares survived with two bullet wounds in the arm and shoulder.

Condemning the killing, and the broader attacks on journalists in Syria, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said:

"Even as the international spotlight on the Syrian conflict continues to dim, journalists like Raed Fares and Hamoud al-Jnaid continue working, at the gravest possible risk, to inform the global public of the violence and turmoil in their homeland.. We condemn their murder and call on all sides to the conflict to do their utmost to allow journalists to report safely and without fear of retaliation."

Ali Dandoush, a journalist and photographer for Radio Fresh who was in the car with Fares and Jneed when they were gunned down, told CPJ that over the past two months before the murders, they had been receiving threats at their office from armed groups.

Expression

In December 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Syrian militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham threatened to execute Syrian journalist Amjed Al-Maleh, a Syrian freelance journalist and media activist from the southwestern Syrian city of Madaya whom the group had been holding captive for nearly a year. Al-Maleh has been held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since he was taken captive outside his home in Idlib on 13th December 2017, and accused of carrying out media activities against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Al-Maleh covered the siege of Madaya by Syrian government troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which began in July 2015 and ended in April 2017. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham however denied that they had ordered Al-Maleh’s execution in a letter to Human Rights Watch.

As the world entered 2019, journalists and human rights defenders who were disappeared more than five years ago remain missing. In early January 2019, RSF called for light to be shed on the fate of Amir Hamed, a citizen-journalist and activist who was abducted by gunmen from his home in Derbasiyah, in North-Eastern Syria on 11th January 2014, and has not been seen since. Journalist and human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and three of her colleagues, Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada also remain missing, more than five years after they were disappeared on 9th December 2013.

Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk said:

“We call for all possible light to be shed on the disappearance of Amir Hamed and all the other journalists still missing in Syria.. All of the forces present on the ground are responsible for the fate of the persons detained in the territories they control.”

In a separate development, on 31st January 2019 a U.S. federal court in Washington D.C. found the Syrian government culpable in the 2012 killing of Marie Colvin, a former correspondent for the U.K. newspaper Sunday Times, and ordered the government to pay US$302.5 million to her family. The court found that the Syrian government "discovered that foreign journalists were broadcasting reports from a Media Center in Baba Amr" and "launched an artillery attack against it, for the purpose of killing the journalists inside."

Colvin was killed in 2012 in Homs, Syria, after Syrian forces fired a shell at the building where they were reporting from. French photojournalist Remi Ochlik was also killed in the attack.

CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said:

"This finding that Syria is responsible for deliberately killing Marie Colvin will not bring her back, but it will send a strong message to authorities worldwide that murdering journalists has consequences."

Journalists in Syria continue to operate under very grave and precarious conditions. The Syria Network for Human Rights documented the killing of 24 media workers, the injury of 28, and the arrest or kidnapping of 31 during the year 2018.

Association in Syria

On paper, it is possible to establish a CSO in Syria. However, the government has full authority to decide if an association can be registered or not. In practice, Syrian citizens are completely denied the right to freedom of association.

On paper, it is possible to establish a CSO in Syria. However, the government has full authority to decide if an association can be registered or not. In practice, Syrian citizens are completely denied the right to freedom of association. Most CSOs which provide critical services in the midst of the conflict are forced to operate clandestinely and with the threat of sanction, rather than the support of the state behind them. Those operating in areas of the country controlled by government forces have virtually no freedom in which to operate, while those in opposition-controlled areas (excluding areas controlled by extremist Islamist groups) are largely limited in scope to mitigating the effects of the conflict.Air and ground strikes have targeted CSOs, foreign and domestic alike. Recent examples of such attacks include the bombing in November 2015 of a bakery run by a Turkish non-governmental organisation in Idlib.Many civil society activists and organisations, who were at the centre of peaceful efforts to denounce Syria’s brutal dictatorship in 2011, have either disappeared, been killed or forced into exile since the start of the armed conflict. As of June 2016, many prominent human rights defenders including Khalil Ma’touq, Bassel Khartabil, Mohamed Zaza, Hussein ‘Essou, Yahia Al Sharbaji, Samar Kokash, Zaki Kordillo and his son Mehyar and Ibrahim Hajji Al Halabi remained unlawfully detained or disappeared – their whereabouts unknown to even their own families. Torture in detention is systematic and methods include ‘suspending detainees by their wrists for hours or days; beating detainees on their heads or chests with PVC pipes, whipping with steel cables, electrocution, and burning.’ Rape, threats of rape and sexual harassment are also used as forms of torture, especially against women in detention. Incredibly, some CSOs, including those advancing the causes of women in Syria, have continued to campaign and organise in increasingly desperate circumstances throughout the conflict. On 9 December 2013, woman human rights defender and head of the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria, Razan Zaitouneh, was abducted with her two colleagues and husband during a raid on their offices by a group of armed men and remain in captivity until today.

Peaceful Assembly in Syria

In today’s Syria, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is all but completely denied. When Syrian citizens attempted to exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express their unhappiness with the absence of democratic freedoms in 2011, the government reacted with force, precipitating a spiral of violence which continues today despite the removal of an Emergency Law in April 2011.

In today’s Syria, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is all but completely denied.When Syrian citizens attempted to exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express their unhappiness with the absence of democratic freedoms in 2011, the government reacted with force, precipitating a spiral of violence which continues today despite the removal of an Emergency Law in April 2011. Protest organisers were some of the first to be rounded up through illegal arrests and enforced disappearances, later to be brought up on spurious charges under the State of Emergency Law that included ‘weakening national sentiment’ and ‘causing sectarian and racial strife’.Today, activists describe conditions of enormous fear, in which any public gatherings, of even two or three people, are not tolerated. Even meetings in private houses carry huge risks for activists or ordinary citizens. The realities of war, and constant bombardment of some urban areas, has made gathering in public extremely dangerous. A shaky ceasefire agreement in early 2016 resulted in a temporary reduction in the number of airstrikes on civilian areas, providing a rare opportunity for Syrians to exercise their freedom to gather in public.

Expression in Syria

Syria has now become the most dangerous place on Earth to be a journalist. The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the deaths of 399 media personnel at the hands of the Syrian authorities between 2011 and 2015.

Syria has now become the most dangerous place on Earth to be a journalist.The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the deaths of 399 media personnel at the hands of the Syrian authorities between 2011 and 2015. Many more remain in prison or have been forcibly disappeared. These media personnel were subjected to a pattern of unlawful arrest, enforced disappearance, torture and death that have befallen so many individuals accused of ‘terrorism’ or plotting to destabilise the state and its regime. International journalists have also become victims. Counter-Terrorism Law No.19 has been used by the Syrian State to justify a widespread campaign of arrests, including against free-expression advocates Hussein Ghrer, Hani Al-Zaytani and Mazen Darwish who were arrested in 2012 and held in appalling conditions for over three years. The cases of television director Bilal Ahmad Bilal, software engineer and Internet freedom advocate Bassel Khartabil, Nabil Shurbaji and citizen journalist Mohammed Abdel-Mawla Al-Hariri, who all remain in detention, are also emblematic of the government’s brutal repression of the right to free expression in Syria. The effects of this campaign of violence on free expression are widespread self-censorship and the closure of most independent news sources in Syria. Although social media sites like Facebook remain accessible in Syria, the Internet is used by the government as a tool to track down activists and carry out mass surveillance over the Syrian population.