A citizen journalist in Syria has been given a death sentence, the very first to be handed out by the government so far.
Mohammed Abdelmawla al-Hariri would regularly appear on Al Jazeera network to provide updates on the situation in his hometown Deraa. He was arrested on April 16 after his interview with the network.
The death sentence was ordered on grounds of “high treason and contact with foreign parties,” according to Syrian human rights groups. Many activist groups condemn the death sentence and claim that it is an attempt to repress dissidents.
The Syrian League of the Defense of Human Rights dismisses the charges as “null and void,” according to Al-Arabiya’s website.
The organisation claims that Hariri was tortured from the first day of his arrest and was forced to confess. “They broke his backbone and authorities refused to give him the proper medical care,” read the group’s statement.
According to the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, Hariri was tortured to the point of being partially paralysed. He has now been moved to the Saidnaya military prison north of Damascus.
Local and international groups have criticised the death sentence of Hariri and demand it to be revoked.
Another citizen journalist based in Homs was arrested last month and faced torture. Ali Mahmoud Othman was actively working to chronicle the Syrian unrest and like many others he brutally tortured. Based on the Doha Centre for Media Freedom’s research, at least 30 reporters and citizen journalists were killed by April this year.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria is the most dangerous country to work as a reporter after the unrest broke out. The International Press Institute Death Watch says 51 journalists have been killed worldwide so far this year and out of that 12 were killed in Syria, the highest from any single country. Marie Colvin, a war-correspondent for a London- based Sunday Times, was one of the prominent journalists killed in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is targeting the media in order to control what information is being broadcast out of the country. Foreign journalists are generally not allowed to enter the country. Other journalists who were already working in Syria had their accreditation revoked, faced arrest or were even tortured, trialed or killed. Recently, two Turkish journalists were detained for two months by the Syrian intelligence for documenting the unrest and were sent home after Iran’s intervention.
Due to the heavy crackdown, many news networks have turned to citizen journalists for their daily updates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 25,000 Syrians are in jail and yet anti-regime protests don’t seem to die down. With heavy censorship on what’s being reported, many human rights group find it difficult to get an accurate death count.