7 years on: Eastern Ghouta dubbed "hell on earth"

As the Syrian conflict continues, civilians trapped in Eastern Ghouta face starvation and indiscriminate bombing raids. 400,000 civilians were reportedly trapped as Syrian government forces encircled the rebel stronghold. Despite the evacuation of some civilians, inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta faced constant shelling, airstrikes, and rocket fire from Syrian government forces (and their allies). The ensuing conflict between Syrian government forces and rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta has been dubbed a "hell on earth" for those in the area. 

As the pressure increased on rebels, civilian casualties soared, with reports estimating that 1,500 people were killed in the onslaught. The indiscriminate bombing of innocent people as well as the destruction of infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, has left an appalling situation for trapped communities trying to survive there. Food and medical aid has also been denied delivery to the area. On 1st April 2018, a deal was reportedly stuck between the last of the rebel groups and President Assad's forces, enabling them to leave the town of Douma. This update details the challenges faced by civil society groups trapped in Eastern Ghouta and across Syria. 

Expression

In the context of the attacks against civilians in Eastern Ghouta, in late February the Syrian Journalists' Association warned that up to 75 journalists and media workers are at risk. The unrelenting conflict has left a number of journalists dead or seriously injured. In January, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the killing of one media worker and nine who were injured, and in February, four media workers were killed and nine injured.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also recorded a number of journalists who have been recently killed or injured during airstrikes as follows:

  • On 23rd February, Abdul Rahman Ismael Yassin, a reporter for the pro-opposition Hammouriyeh Media Office, died from injuries sustained in a 20th February airstrike in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. 
  • On 19th February, Maher Abdelaziz, an engineer for the pro-opposition channel Orient TV, was injured in Eastern Ghouta.
  • On 7th February, media activist Walid Al-Rashed was seriously injured during a rocket attack in the northwestern Syrian city of Ma'arra al-Numan.

In Idlib, CPJ also reported the assault of Mohamed Abdulqader Sbeh, a reporter for the independent news website Madar Today. Sbeh was assaulted by eight unidentified men on 1st March 2018 after returning from the town of Hish, south of Idlib. The unidentified individuals seized Sbeh's laptop and mobile phone. 

On 15th March 2018, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) launched an online site, “Syria, in search of justice”. In a press release, the two organisations stated that the web page serves as a way:

“[To stand]...in solidarity with Syrian victims, to stress the importance of justice in reaching durable peace and to present our work to fight impunity for crimes committed during the conflict".

According to a statement released by FIDH on 12 March 2018, the attack in Homs which killed journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik in 2012 was a premeditated and targeted attack. New evidence has shown that the targeting of the American and French journalists was part of a campaign to prevent media from reporting on atrocities committed by the Assad regime. The statement called for the perpetrators of the crime to be held accountable. 

Association

Activist Ahmad Hamdan, who raised awareness of the plight of people in eastern Ghouta under the hashtag #IAmStillAlive, was reportedly killed on 14 March 2018 in an airstrike in Ghouta. The 26 year-old filmmaker led a social media campaign on the situation for civilians trapped in the conflict zone which drew support from across the globe. Hamdan was reportedly killed after a bomb struck his hometown of Hamouriya. Despite his death, the #IAmStillAlive campaign represents not only the dire conditions for civilians but also the resilience of the 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta.