Scores of journalists reporting on human rights abuses in Syria have been deliberately detained, disappeared, tortured and killed over the last two years to silence them, says Amnesty International in a report released ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which is today.
By far the majority of journalists killed while reporting the war – at least 46 from March 2011 to late April 2013, according to UNESCO – have been Syrian nationals.
In the deadly conflict, journalists have been killed tragically when they were caught up in shelling or crossfire, while at least 36 are believed to have been deliberately abducted, tortured, jailed, and killed – by both government and opposition forces – in connection with their work.
Amnesty International said these deliberate attacks amount to war crimes that must be punished.
For example, state television presenter Mohammed al-Sa’eed was reportedly abducted from his home in Damascus in July 2012 and summarily killed by Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist armed group. Ali Abbas, 37, head of the internal news department of the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), was reported to have been killed in August 2012 in his home by assailants believed to be members of an armed opposition group. High-school student, ‘Abd al-Ghani Ka’ake, 18, was shot and killed, while filming security forces who were firing on a demonstration in Aleppo, in May 2012.
Palestinian writer Salameh Kaileh, was arrested on April 24, 2012 by Air Force Intelligence after he criticized the new constitution, was taken to a detention center in Damascus, where he told Amnesty International that he was blindfolded and tortured with falaqa (beating of the soles of the feet). Kaileh was even tortured while being transferred to a hospital before he was finally released and deported to Jordan.
The Syrian government authorities and armed opposition groups are both responsible for making Syria one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists to work in.
The Amnesty International report, Shooting the Messenger: Journalists Targeted By All Sides in Syria, details dozens of cases of journalists attacked or imprisoned to silence them since the 2011 uprising began.
The report also highlights the crucial role played by citizen journalists, many of whom risk their lives to share information with the outside world about human rights abuses. Like their professional colleagues, this group has faced reprisals to prevent them carrying out their work.
“Deliberate attacks on civilians, including journalists, are violations of the laws of war,” said Sanjeev Bery, Middle East advocacy director for Amnesty International USA. “The scale of abuses in Syria demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
Repressive control of the media is not new in Syria. For decades, Syria blocked free and independent newspapers, radio, and television. Even with new laws ostensibly providing greater freedom of expression the situation did not improve in practice and journalists continue to be persecuted for reporting a wide range of subjects, including human rights violations carried out by the authorities.
In 2011, the Syrian authorities stepped up their repressive tactics to prevent media coverage of what was then a mainly peaceful uprising. The authorities introduced a virtual news blackout on mainstream media outlets between March and December.
The heavy restrictions placed on the mainstream media have led to a surge in citizen journalism on social networking sites.
“We have been calling for over two years for the international community to take meaningful steps to ensure those responsible from all sides are held to account for international crimes and other abuses and for victims to receive reparations, but the Syrian people are still waiting,” said Ann Harrison, deputy director, Middle East and North Africa program. “How much more evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity does the U.N. Security Council need to see before it refers the situation in Syria to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court?”