Despite reported decrease in level of violence, civic space in Syria under severe threat
The fate of tens of thousands of detained individuals and the disappeared, including many human rights defenders and political activists, are being ignored in current peace negotiations, according to Human Rights Watch and Syria Deeply. The release of thousands of political prisoners should be a condition for negotiation, yet this issue is being marginalised in the current negotiation process. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights Network (SNHR), despite several UN resolutions since 2012, and commitments during talks in Geneva and Astana, both talks and resolutions “have all failed to reveal even the fate of one missing or forcibly-disappeared person, or set free any prisons of conscience, political figures, women, or children”. Eva Svoboda, who was appointed by UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura last year to handle the issue of detainees and abductees, recently vacated the post. Among those who remain disappeared are human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Thatha, who have been missing since 2nd October 2012 when they are believed to have been arrested at a government-operated checkpoint in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya. Despite repeated requests for information from the public prosecutor’s office in Damascus in 2012 and 2013 by family and colleagues, Syrian authorities have denied that they arrested the two men.
Freedom of expression continues to be under severe threat in Syria. Despite reports that the conflict is winding down and that violence is decreasing, there are still widespread violations of the right to freedom of expression. On 12th October 2017, journalists Dilîşan Îbiş and Hogir Mihemed were killed after suffering fatal injuries when two Daesh attackers carried out a suicide car bomb targeting civilians on a road in Abu Fas, Al-Hasakah in eastern Syria. Îbiş died in the blast and Mihemed died of severe injuries to his head the next day in hospital. Another journalist, Rizgar Deniz, was injured in the blast. On 29th September 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ibrahim Ali Al-Suleiman, a local reporter for the independent Euphrates Post was detained in northern Syria by Kurdish security forces.
Syria ranks 2nd in the world in cases of impunity for killings of journalists, according to CPJ’s Global Impunity Index released on 31st October 2017, moving the country from 3rd place in last year’s index. CPJ reports that not one killing has been prosecuted and the Syrian authorities have not responded to UNESCO’s request for information on the progress of investigations into the murders of journalists. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, no less than 634 journalists and citizen journalists have been killed in Syria in the last seven years. The Syrian Journalists Syndicate reports the killing of 296 media workers in the same period.