'They didn't just beat us': Rebel group destroys media office in Damascus suburb

Last Saturday, thirty men armed with rifles and clubs broke into an independent media office in Kiswa, a town in the Damascus suburb of West Ghouta.

When the men exited the makeshift newsroom, they left in their wake bruised bodies and broken equipment, including the journalists’ only working laptop.

On Sunday, journalists in West Ghouta issued a statement condemning Ajnad a-Sham, an Islamist rebel group which has previously been accused of attempts to co-opt and intimidate citizen journalists in Kiswa. 

 Statement posted on The Local Council of Kiswa City's Facebook page. Courtesy of The Local Council of Kiswa City. 

“In essence this [attack] was a result of our continued criticism of their conduct with civilians and our recent refusal to cooperate with their stipulations,” citizen journalist Abu Muhammad al-Kiswani told Syria Direct correspondent Alaa Nasser.

Cornered in the regime-blockaded southern half of Kiswa, Ajnad a-Sham has been accused of cleaving parts of southern Kiswa into a fiefdom where it monopolizes the distribution of food, humanitarian aid and medical assistance, Syria Direct reported last November.

As citizen journalists in Kiswa attempt to stay neutral, they come under pressure from armed opposition groups, al-Kiswani told Syria Direct.

“This pressure [from armed opposition groups] stems from being held accountable.”

Q: Could you tell us, from your point of view, what took place last Saturday?

This past Saturday, at 11pm, 30 armed men broke into our headquarters. They belonged to Ajnad a-Sham’s force in Kiswa. They stormed our office, guns pointed towards the sky, firing. Most were also carrying clubs which they attacked us with.

There were seven of us in the office that night, three journalists and four medical staff. Most of us who were there now have serious bruising on our bodies as a result of their beating.

They didn't just beat us. Most of what was in our office is now in tatters. They broke our only laptop, our most crucial piece of equipment.

Our office, in terms of equipment, was far simpler that what you’d find in other newsrooms.

 Aftermath of the Ajnad a-Sham attack on an independent media office in Kiswa. Photo courtesy of Abu Muhammed al-Kiswani. 

Q: Why do you think they attacked your office?

In the past Ajnad a-Sham has tried to pressure us into stopping our work. This pressure stems from being held accountable.

Recently we refused to cooperate with any of the armed rebel groups. This is when we began receiving threats against our headquarters from different armed groups. It is worth mentioning that these rebel groups which oppress us have leadership from outside the community.

In essence this was a result of our continued criticism of their conduct with civilians and our recent refusal to cooperate with their stipulations.

Q: As journalists independent from any armed group, what is your relationship with civilians in Kiswa?

We try to deliver the voice of Syrians who are marginalized by the regime on one side and the opposition on the other. We try to act as a conduit to bring the voices of everyday people to the world.

Ajnad a-Sham, widely considered the strongest faction, doesn’t defend us, but we have the support of the civilians in Kiswa.

Q: Do you have any demands for Ajnad a-Sham after their attack?

We demand monetary compensation for what they destroyed. We also demand an official apology be posted on their official website and Facebook page. Beyond this, we demand a guarantee that they will not attack us, nor attempt to evict us whenever it pleases them.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

David Leestma, Reporter/Translator

David Leestma studied International Relations at Grand Valley State University. His studies took him to Lebanon, as well as Morocco and Oman with the Critical Language Scholarship in 2014 and 2015. Before joining Syria Direct as a full time reporter, David interned with Syria Direct as a translator and collaborated with ISW to produce the Syria Situation Report.