Media activists killed and others targetted as war rages on


As the conflict in Syria continues, the freedom of expression remains under serious threat. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the conditions for media activism have continued to deteriorate in recent weeks. In October alone, SNHR documented the killing of six media activists, four by government forces and two by terrorist group Daesh (ISIS), as well as nine injured. It also reported an assault on the offices of a media organisation by government forces and two arrests by the terrorist group Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham during the same month.

In November, the SNHR recorded the killing of one media activist at the hands of government forces and two media activists by armed opposition factions. The organisation's monthly report also documented four cases of arrest and one abduction. Additionally, it reported 11 media activists injured by government forces, three by Russian forces, and one by armed opposition factions.

In its concluding section, the report outlined a number of recommendations to the various actors in the conflict:

To the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Condemn the targeting of media activists in Syria and shed light on their sacrifice and suffering.

To the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic: Conduct investigations that focuson the targeting of media activists given their vital role in recording incidents in Syria.

To the Security Council: Work on fighting the policy of impunity by referring the cases in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

To international and Arabic media institutions: Advocate for their colleagues in the  field of media by publishing periodic reports that shed light on their daily suffering and memorialize their sacrifice. Also, they must contact their families to console them.

To all parties: Respect international humanitarian law with respect to the protection of civilians and especially media activists and their equipment.

Syria has one of the world's highest rates of impunity for killings of journalists and human rights defenders. Marking the fourth anniversary of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the UNESCO Office in Beirut, the Maharat Foundation, and the Gulf Center for Human Rights held an event in Bir Hassan on 2nd November. Entitled 'No to impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in the Arab Region', the event featured press interviews and a photo exhibition highlighting some cases of murdered or kidnapped journalists in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. One of the cases highlighted was that of journalist Samir Kassab, abducted along with his colleague Ishak Moctar while working near Aleppo, and missing since October 2013.

This month also marks the third anniversary of the abduction of four human rights defenders from the NGO Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in Duma, near Damascus. Razan Zaitouneh, her husband and colleague Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi were abducted by a group of armed men on 9th December 2013. There has been no news of their whereabouts ever since, but they are presumed to be held by armed groups that control the area.

On 8th November, Syrian citizen journalist Hadi Abdullah was awarded the 2016 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) - TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize. Hadi Abdullah is a 29-year-old freelance reporter who has braved many dangers to cover the war in Syria, entering high-risk areas where few colleagues venture in order to film and to enable civil society’s representatives to speak to the outside world.