AMMAN: Activists in a south Idlib town demonstrated on Wednesday to memorialize a prominent citizen journalist killed by a Russian airstrike last week and to draw attention to the dangers faced by Syria’s opposition journalists and unpaid media activists while covering the war.
The dozen protesters commemorated Wasim al-Adel, a prominent media activist from the town of Maarat a-Numan, ruled by the Victory Army, who was killed by a Russian airstrike in the Idlib countryside late last week. Al-Adel, who was working at the time, filmed the blast that took his life. Syria Direct had previously interviewed al-Adel for a number of reports, most recently for a story on the cluster munitions used by Russian and regime planes in Syria.
Al-Adel’s reporting, published locally and on Syria Direct, “revealed the criminality of the regime and the death of the world’s conscience,” read one of the signs held up by protesters in Arabic and English on Wednesday. “Wasim al-Adel: You are in our hearts and we follow in your path,” read another.
Al-Adel’s story is one among many in the past month, as seven journalists and media activists have been killed in multiple provinces across Syria. This past April, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that 463 media activists had been killed in Syria by regime forces, armed opposition groups and the Islamic State since March 2011, while 1,027 had been arrested or abducted.
Maarat a-Numan activists protest the death of a colleague in a Russian airstrike. Photo courtesy of Maarat Now.
“We are working in the most dangerous place in the world,” Yaman al-Sayyed, an Orient News correspondent in the blockaded East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus told Syria Direct on Thursday.
“You could go to cover a massacre and become one of the victims,” al-Sayyed said. “The Assad regime does not distinguish between civilians, fighters and journalists. Everyone is a target.”
Supported by the spread of social media and technology, much of the most detailed and accurate information available about the war in Syria comes from a mixture of Syrian journalists, unpaid media activists and those embedded with fighting brigades.
Many activists and reporters got their start documenting protests, demonstrations and regime backlash during the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011.
“I have been wounded four times doing media coverage,” Amer al-Shami, an East Ghouta photographer for an international news agency told Syria Direct on Thursday. “Twice just this year.”
While the risks journalists and media activists face are similar to those faced by civilian residents facing near-daily airstrikes in East Ghouta, for example, journalists’ work often brings them to the sites of bombings and onto active battlefields.
Anas Sayadi, Muhammad Loz and Ayman Shoubak, three opposition journalists killed in the past two weeks, died covering battles in the Hama, Homs and Aleppo countrysides, respectively.
Idlib journalist Wasim al-Adel. Photo courtesy of Halab Today.
‘Persecuted by all parties’
For Syria’s journalists and media activists, threats and attacks from all sides are the cost of doing business.
“Our lives are in danger every day,” Jawad al-Arbini, a Now Channel correspondent in Outer Damascus told Syria Direct Thursday.
The notion of journalistic integrity allowing reporters to cover the war unharmed was never in play in Syria from the beginning in 2011. In fact, as time goes on, journalists often face harm from all directions, pressured or even threatened not to report the abuses of ruling rebel factions and facing capital punishment for treason if captured by regime forces.
“Most journalists are persecuted by all parties fighting in the conflict,” Abdullah al-Ahmad, a media activist from the northeast Al-Hasakah province told Syria Direct on Thursday. “Either you are affiliated with some [fighting] group, or you are subjected to arrest and torture.”
Al-Ahmad said that he was previously arrested and held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the PYD, for three days without charge and was threatened with “a harsh response” if he continued his work.
After his release, “when I went to IS-controlled areas,” al-Ahmad says, “the Islamic State said I could either work for them or stop working altogether,” under threat of execution.
The threat is not an empty one: An IS video released this past July shows the execution of two civilians accused of taking pictures for the Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) media campaign, which works to expose IS abuses.
“The targeting of citizen journalists in A-Raqqa is a foregone conclusion,” Abu Ibrahim a-Raqqawi, a founding member of RBSS told Syria Direct on Thursday. “Any person who takes a picture in A-Raqqa is charged with treachery and executed.”
The danger faced by those suspected of working with the campaign has terrorized A-Raqqa residents, a-Raqqawi says, “to the extent that they are afraid of ‘liking’ the RBSS Facebook page.”