Attacks on journalists continue, as new law threatens expression

Freedom of Expression

Journalists and human rights defenders continue to face threats, detention and death in Syria. On 18th May 2018, two unknown gunmen killed Ibrahim Al-Munjar, a correspondent for the Syrian news website Sy24 in the southern Syrian province of Daraa. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Al Munjar had previously been threatened by armed groups.

The editor-in-chief of Sy24 said this to CPJ:

Al-Munjar covered social and humanitarian issues. The last story he covered for Sy24 was an awards ceremony for outstanding students in the countryside of Daraa. However, he received many threats from [the militant group] Islamic State [IS] last year. That is why he had to move to Saida from his hometown Tal Shibab…He used to cover the clashes between the Free Syrian Army and IS in Daraa province before he joined Sy24 six months ago."

The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the killing of 15 media workers between January and June 2018.

In another incident, on 15th May 2018, public security officers assaulted and then detained correspondent Wael Adel and cameraman Omar Hafez, while they were filming a report on preparations for Ramadan in the town of Azaz, northwest of Aleppo. The attackers, who identified themselves as public security officers, insisted that the journalists were not allowed to film in the area. The officers severely beat and insulted the two journalists, before holding them for three hours at their local headquarters.

In an interview with CPJ, Adel recounted  the ordeal as follows:

"I told him that we had been working in the area for years and we had never needed a license. Abu Hussein( a man who had identified himself as the General Public Security sergeant) ordered the sergeant to arrest us and seize our equipment, but we said he needed a warrant for that,"

The journalists’ equipment was confiscated and only released to them five days later, with all footage deleted, and partly destroyed

On 6th June 2018, armed group Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) released Syrian citizen-journalist Hossam Mahmoud, but still holds his colleague Amjad Al-Maleh. The two were captured on 10th December 2017, and had been held for six months at the time of Mahmoud's release. Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that journalists held by HTS are in some cases beaten and subjected to very violent interrogations, accusing those who are not supporters of the group of doing “media work without permission”

In separate developments, Syria’s new Anti-Cyber Crime law, enacted in March 2018, has drawn sharp criticism from civil society and human rights groups. The piece of law which was approved by presidential decree on 25th March 2018, is a refined version of its predecessor Cyber crime Law 17/2012. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the new law criminalizes cyber crimes, mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists with the prosecution of cyber crimes in every governorate, which in effect threatens online freedom.

Given the Syrian government’s history of targeting journalists, human rights defenders and others for online criticism, there are grave concerns that this new law will be used to target online dissidents.