‘If you criticize a battalion, you will become their target’


March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014

As the Syria crisis enters its fourth year, moderate activists and citizen journalists have increasingly become the target of violence from both the regime and hardline Islamist groups. Once at the core of non-violent protests and operating robust media centers, many activists have been kidnapped or assassinated, their media offices ransacked by both government institutions and the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham, among others.

Prominent attacks such as the assassination attempt in October on Raed al-Fares, the founder of the well-known Kafr Nabl Media Center in Idlib province, and the December kidnapping of renowned human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh epitomize the dangers faced by moderates still fighting for democracy and freedom.

The targeting of citizen journalists has changed the nature of the conflict, exacerbating the difficulties in collecting and verifying information. Activists have told Syria Direct that it is increasingly difficult to hold regime forces and opposition groups accountable for their crimes.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights announced January 7th it would stop tracking the death toll in Syria, unable to verify information due to a lack of access. “It was always very close to the edge in terms of how much we could guarantee the source material was accurate,” UNHCR spokesperson Rupert Colville said. “And it reached a point where we felt we could no longer cross that line.”

Becoming friends with fighting battalions has become a necessity for moderate activists, Mohammad Jaza’ri tells Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al Masri. The manager of the Syrian Revolution General Commission in the Damascus region talks about facing violent threats, working in hiding and his conviction that the revolution remains “one of freedom and dignity.”

Screen_Shot_2014-03-06_at_2.31.04_PM.pngActivists in Kafr Nabl demonstrate last month. Photo courtesy of Banners from Occupied Kafr Nabel.

Q: We have seen how moderate activists have been treated; some have faced abductions or assassinations from the regime or the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS). Do these threats scare you? Do you have the desire to get out of Syria?

I don’t feel afraid. If I had wanted to leave Syria, I could have done that at the beginning of the crisis. Those who can gain the friendship with all the battalions, moderate and extremist, do not fear anything. I consider myself a fighter till the end of this path, even if that leads to my death.

Q: Does the Syrian revolution still represent the original demands for dignity and freedom? What has changed?

Today, the revolution is still one of freedom and dignity. The regime wants to change it into a revolution of bread loaves, hunger and forcing people to allow it to remain in power through starvation. But the revolution still fights for the freedom and dignity of the people, no matter what extremists do to distort it.

Q: Have you been exposed to threats before?

Yes. I was threatened by an opposition group because I criticized their actions. They threatened to put me in jail. The reason behind it was my criticism of a battalion retreating from the front for no reason, which allowed the regime to capture the area. I voiced my criticism on my Facebook page, and I criticized the battalion a second time for the same reason in a different battle. Then they threatened me with imprisonment.

I have also faced regime threats several times. Usually via the internet, I think by shabiha  [pro-regime militias]. I was also threatened by Air Force Intelligence officers; they threatened to kill me and my family and to arrest relatives of mine who live in cities under their control. Their threats were usually by phone.

Q: You mentioned before that you were able to gain the respect and sympathy of extremist battalions – how did you do that? Is it possible to do so, when they are behaving like the regime?

I have gained the sympathy of all the battalions so that they won’t target me if and when I criticize them. I visit them and have conversations with them. I do this with all the battalions, except the ones that have threatened me. I know that is not enough but my goal is not to be their target.

Q: So this means fear is a daily part of your job, and your field of work does not allow you to publish all the news you know?

Working in the media is very hard and dangerous, because if you criticize a battalion, you will become their target. So I work in hiding to publish the mistakes that are made without revealing my name. I publish everything that is happening here because I am not involved in any military or political party.

Q: Three years after the onset of the revolution, what is your opinion on the revolution?

It is the same revolution that started three years ago. Except now there are more military uniforms than before, especially after Hezbollah and other Iraqi troops [Lewa abu al-Fadel al-Abbas, Lewa Thu al-Fikar, Asa’ib Ahil al-Hak] got involved in the crisis to help the regime forces.

At same time the process of giving some battalions a political dimension is misrepresenting the revolution and its goals. Also, not to forget is the UN’s disregard for the regime breaking all international laws.

Q: The last few months we have witnessed the capture of Razan Zaitouneh and an assassination attempt on Raed al-Fares – do you think the aim of these operations is to get rid of the moderate journalists in this revolution?

Everybody knew Razan’s house and office were both in Douma, Outer Damascus. It is also known that Jaish al-Islam is running the neighborhood and is the dominant force there.

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