Journalists and human rights defenders continue to face risks in Syria
On 22nd July, a Syrian government jet attacked the office of the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in Douma city. The VDC is an independent civil society organisation monitoring and documenting human rights violations in Syria. Their office was destroyed as a consequence of the attack but fortunately there were no casualties. The VDC was founded by prominent human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, who along with her colleagues Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and her husband Wa’el Hamada, has been in captivity since being kidnapped by armed men from their offices on 9th December 2013.
In August, Syrian human rights defender Bassel Khartabil was named prisoner of the month by the Their freedom is their right campaign. A Syrian of Palestinian parents, Khartabil is a 34-year-old computer engineer who was arrested on 15th March 2012 and held for over three years in Adra prison where he was reportedly tortured. Before his arrest, he used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the Internet. Since 3rd October 2015, when he managed to tell his family that he was being transferred to an unknown location, his whereabouts have remained unknown.
With no end in sight to the conflict in Syria, the civilian death toll continues to rise and freedom of expression is still seriously violated by all sides, with journalists and human rights defenders in need of urgent protection. Comments by President Bashar Al-Assad - in which he accused the journalist Marie Colvin of working with terrorists and therefore of being responsible for her own death in 2012 - demonstrate the Syrian government’s complete disregard for the right to freedom of expression.
Journalists have also been seriously threatened and attacked by Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS) and other extremist groups. A video purportedly showing the execution of five Syrians accused of working with media and non-governmental organisations was released by Daesh on 25th June. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the narrator of the video warns all journalists that Daesh “will reach them, regardless of their location.” On 12th July, Ibrahim Al-Omar, a Syrian reporter for Al-Jazeera, was killed while covering airstrikes near the northwestern city of Idlib.