Report shows freedom of expression violations increased in August

Expression

Freedom of expression has always been a problematic issue in Syria; however, as the conflict in the country rages on, there are even more severe restrictions, threats and dangers to the exercise of the right to free expression. Recently, two journalists were killed in separate bomb attacks, media activists have been killed and the de facto authorities of the Army of Islam in Douma closed a news magazine and arrested and imprisoned journalists.

On 21st August 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Osama Nasr al-Zoabi, a correspondent with the Syrian Media Organisation, the main national government-owned media institution, was killed when his car hit an improvised explosive device on the road connecting the towns of Rakhm and al-Karak in eastern rural Daraa. According to a statement from the Syrian Media Organisation, his nephew and brother were also killed during the incident. 

On 30th July 2017, CPJ also reported that Khaled Al-Khateb, a freelance correspondent with Russian government-funded broadcaster Russia Today (RT) was killed by a rocket allegedly fired by fighters from Da’esh. RT cameraman Muutaz Yaqoub was injured in the same incident.

According to the Syria Center for Journalistic Freedoms (SCFJ), attacks against journalists and the media increased in August 2017, with 21 violations documented after a decline in June and July. According to the SCFJ, Da’esh executed media activist Ali Yousuf Al-Radi in al-Mayadin city in Deir and media activist Hayyan Fadi Al-Ammari died of wounds he sustained in an explosive device attack in Daraa, south of Syria. In addition, during July and August the Syria Network for Human Rights reported that six media activists were killed, four injured and 12 abducted.

In July 2017, the magazine Talaana Aaharih (Rising for Freedom) was banned in Douma and two of its journalists sentenced to prison over an article published earlier this year, as reported by GCHR. On 11th July 2017, after a trial in Douma, journalists Laila Al-Safadi and Shawkat Garziddin were sentenced in absentia to two months in prison. Journalist Osama Nassar, assistant editor-in-chief and director of its main office in Douma, was found not guilty. The court had accused the magazine of defaming the image of Allah and hurting the feelings of Muslims in Syria.

In a separate incident, Reporters without Borders and the Skeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom reiterated its calls for the release of U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice, who was kidnapped over five years ago.

Association

According to the GCHR, on 13th August 2017 a mob of around 100 supporters of the Islamic Army attacked the offices of the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, destroying the office and taking equipment and papers, and assaulting the staff. VDC has been previously and severally targeted by armed and unknown groups as reported previously by the Monitor.

On the occasion of the United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30th August 2017, 23 national and international civil society organisations called for the release of Syrians who have been disappeared, and demanded justice, truth and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances. Tens of thousands of Syrians, including many human rights defenders (HRD), have been disappeared since the Syrian conflict began. Among those who were disappeared was HRD and software engineer Bassel Khartabil. In March 2012, government forces arrested Khartabil and he was held in incommunicado detention for eight months. On 1st August 2017, nearly two years since his family last heard from him, Khartabil’s wife learned that the government had executed him.

Among those whose whereabouts remain unknown are Syrian lawyer Khalil Ma’atouq, disappeared since he was arrested at a government military checkpoint in October 2012; and Syrian human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Al-Khalil, Wa’el Hamadeh, and Nazem Hammadi, who were kidnapped from VDC offices during a raid by armed, masked gunmen in Douma on 9th December 2013.