Dozens of journalists fear for their lives

Expression

Syrian journalists and human rights defenders continue to come under attack while reporting on the ongoing conflict.

On 16th July 2018, reporter Mustafa Salamah died after succumbing to injuries from an explosive shell while covering clashes between the Syrian army and rebel groups in the province of Quneitra. According to his employer, Salamah together with his colleagues, were on top of a hill covering Syrian authorities’ attempt to take control of the village of Masshara when an explosive shell landed near them, seriously injuring him. He passed away two hours later.

Emphasizing the risky conditions that journalists covering the conflict are working in, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said;

"Mustafa Salama's death underscores that all journalists working in Syria, no matter what their affiliation, are in the gravest danger--especially in and around Quneitra as fighting there intensifies… all sides to this conflict must do their utmost to allow journalists to report safely on the conflict."

Earlier in July, CPJ and Reporters without Borders (RSF) called on the international community including the United Nations and the European Union, to guarantee the safety of several dozen journalists who were exposed to serious danger as the Syrian army advanced on the Southern region on the Israel border. At least 69 journalists were reported to be trapped and at risk, according to statements issued by CPJ and RSF. Several of the journalists reported being in fear of execution or imprisonment once the Syrian regime took over control of the region. The journalists included those working for local news networks and organisations and employees of international networks.

Raising alarm over the urgency and gravity of this issue, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said;

Every hour counts for these dozens of Syrian journalists whose lives are now in danger... we alert the international community to the extreme urgency of this situation. We remind the parties to the conflict, especially the Syrian government, that under international law, they are responsible for the safety of journalists. We ask the United Nations and the countries adjoining Syria to organize their evacuation as quickly as possible, and we ask the countries in which the journalists would like to seek refuge to accept them.”

In a separate incident, RSF reported that on 31st July 2018, a video emerged on the internet of a Japanese journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, who has been held hostage by an armed Islamist group in Syria for three years. In the short video, the journalist is seen pleading for immediate help.

“I’m in a terrible situation. Please help me now.” - Japanese journalist, Jumpei Yasuda     

On 16th July, CPJ reported that Niraz Saeed, a Palestinian-Syrian photojournalist had died while in state custody while other reports indicate that he had also been tortured while in custody. Saeed was arrested in October 2015 and detained in an unknown location after a Syrian security group raided his home in the city of Damascus. His family later discovered that he was being held at the Damascus' Palestine Branch military intelligence prison, and was later moved to Sednaya prison in Damascus, which is operated by the military police. He was charged with taking money from foreign governments for terrorist activities. Saeed was an award-winning photojournalist, especially known for his work that documented life in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus.

CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour said:

"Niraz Saeed's story is a tragedy for his family, friends, and colleagues--as well as a living nightmare for dozens of journalists in Syria today."

Affirming the duty of governments to respect legal processes, Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Saeed’s death. He said;

“….. I urge the authorities to conduct a transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Niraz Saeed, his long detention, and death in custody. It is the duty of governments everywhere to respect due process of law. UNESCO is deeply committed to promoting the safety of journalists because freedom of speech is a fundamental right, essential for any society”.

On 10th August 2018, yet another journalist lost his life in the conflict. Camera person and photojournalist Ahmed Azize was killed while covering Russian troops’ activities in the town of Urum Al-Kubra, 19 kilometers southwest of the city of Aleppo. Azize was killed in an airstrike by pro-President Bashar al-Assad forces as part of their efforts to take Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama provinces from Syrian opposition forces. 20 other civilians lost their lives in the airstrike.

Syria remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The Syria Network for Human Rights released a report which revealed that in the month of July 2018 alone, 3 media workers were killed, 1 was injured and 1 was arrested.