Syria: two journalists killed and five injured in December alone

Expression

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported that, in 2016, Syria remained the deadliest country for journalists for the fifth consecutive year. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) in turn documented the killings of 86 media activists in 2016, as well as 44 cases of arrest and abduction, and 123 injured media workers. According to the SNHR, two media workers were killed and five injured in December alone.

In January, as the conflict continued and over 700,000 civilians remained under siege, journalists  - domestic and foreign alike - continued to be targeted. On 17th January, the CPJ called for the release of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed, who had been kidnapped by unknown armed men while documenting the humanitarian relief effort in northern Syria on 10th January. On 16th December, Swedish journalist Cecilia Uddén was forced to leave Syria while reporting from Aleppo and Damascus. The Syrian authorities withdrew her press visa after alleging that her reporting was false.

As forces loyal to the Syrian government advanced on Aleppo in late 2016, a coalition of 19 international press freedom organisations issued a statement calling for media workers and civilians living and working in Aleppo and those choosing to leave to be protected. The statement, released on 13th December, highlighted that media workers in Syria had been directly and deliberately targeted by all parties to the conflict and emphasised that any harm caused to media workers constitutes a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

According to a report released by Privacy International in December, entitled Open Season – Building Syria’s Surveillance State, the Syrian government has spent millions of dollars in developing surveillance systems to use against its own citizens. The report emphasises the following points:

  • Technical specifications acquired by Privacy International reveal the Syrian government’s ambitious mass surveillance projects, including a nationwide voice printing project, content filtering, mobile phone surveillance, and IP monitoring at international gateways;
  • Surveillance companies based in Italy, France, Germany, the UAE, and South Africa attempted to sell, and in some cases succeeded in selling, mass surveillance equipment to the Syrian government, facilitating the construction of surveillance systems in that country;
  • A partnership of two surveillance companies, Advanced German Technology operating out of UAE and Italian-headquartered RCS, proposed the use of US-origin equipment in a surveillance project in Syria in 2008–2009, at which time US sanctions and export control regulations restricted the export of certain US-origin goods to Syria, including equipment used for communications interception;
  • The investigation also demonstrates how surveillance companies seek to exploit regulatory loopholes.

Peaceful Assembly

Despite potentially deadly consequences, Syrians continue to engage in sporadic protests. On 30th December anti-government protests calling for the departure of president Bashar Al-Assad were held in Idlib, as reported by the Middle East Eye. On 15th January, according to Syria Direct, dozens of people demonstrated in front of the Electricity Directorate in Latakia city against severe electrical cuts that leave residents with only one hour of electricity per day.