Journalists' death toll in Syrian revolution

DCMF documents the killing of journalists in Syria as part of government crackdown on anti-regime protests.

Syrian newspapers in revolution

The Syrian revolution triggered the birth of new opposition papers, mainly ran by amateur journalists.

Gilles Jacquier’s last journey

Two Swiss journalists recount the journey in Syria which led to the killing of their French colleague Gilles Jacquier.

'My camera was pierced by a bullet'

The DCMF interviews a Syrian citizen journalist who made his way to international airwaves, despite facing threats to his life by the regime.

Hunting down Syria's media actvists

Syria's media activists have overcome a fear barrier since the start of the revolution, and found new ways to get their voices heard.


Journalists' death toll in Syrian revolution

Syrian newspapers in revolution

Gilles Jacquier’s last journey

'My camera was pierced by a bullet'

Hunting down Syria's media actvists
As a journalist, Ghassan Ibrahim knew that something was needed to overcome the dominance of state media.
The DCMF interviews Rami al-Jarrah, an activist in self-imposed exile from Syria, on the media and his journey so far.
Nasim Entriri and Walid Blidi, Algerians who held British passports, have been killed, Syrian opposition sources have said.
A 24 year old Syrian stringer for agencies and international newspapers has been killed in Homs.
The attacks in the cities of Sirmin and Azaz seriously injured a Syrian journalist with a British passport and a journalist activist.
Technology has become an important tool in Syria. The DCMF interviews a number of experts on the new methods being used to tell stories.
After the Syrian regime publicly branded journalist Iyad Issa a traitor, he left the country before things got worse.

The death toll of reporters and citizen journalists killed in Syria since the beginning of the regime's campaign to flush out anti-government protests has jumped to 158, according to Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF).

DCMF has documented the killings based on its sources in Syria, Local Coordination Committees, the Homs Revolutionary Council and the Syrian Journalists Association.

Some were killed during the Syrian army's random shelling of neighbourhoods, others were killed by snipers and there are those who succumbed to the wounds inflicted on them during torture after being captured.

DCMF conveys condolences to the families of all journalists killed in Syria and expresses shock and sadness at the deaths. Immense courage has been displayed by local and foreign reporters covering events in Syria.

DCMF also condemns, in the strongest possible manner, the brutal killings of these journalists. A bold violation of international human rights has been demonstrated and freedom of expression is deteriorating. The centre urges the Syrian authorities to end the targeting of local and foreign journalists and demands it guarantees their right to move freely across the country to report.


View Journalists killed in Syria in a larger map

The following is the list of journalists killed in Syria as documented by the DCMF.

2011:

1.         May 5 - Ahmed Souleymane Daheek, photographer killed by tank gunship near Homs.

2.         Nov 20 - Farzat Yahya Jerban, Broadcast technician and photographer, arrested by the Syrian intelligence service in the small city of Al-Qusayr near Homs, later found dead and dumped in the street with clear signs of torture on his body.

3.         Nov 26 - Nizar Adnan Humsa, Photographer detained by Syrian intelligence for over one month in the Al Bayada neighbourhood in Homs. His dead body was handed over to his family on November 26.

4.         Dec 6 - Firas Barshan, Photographer shot and killed by Syrian security in the city of Hama.

5.         Dec 15 - Hamza Khalid Amer, Photographer killed by an ARPJ rocket while filming the army’s incursion of Shamseen, near Homs.

6.         Dec 15 - Bilal Jibss, Photographer killed by a sniper in Kafr Tkharam, Idlib.

7.         Dec 22 - Basil Al-Sayed, Photographer killed in a random shooting while filming.

8.         Dec 27 - Muatassim Al-Saleh Broadcast technician killed near Hama.

9.         Dec 28 - Muawiya Ibrahim Ayoub, Photographer killed by security forces while filming the incursion of the Rasten neighbourhood near Homs.

2012

10.       Date unknown - Rami Ismail Iqbal, citizen photographer. Iqbal is believed to have succumbed to his wounds in jail, after being shot by the Syrian army on December 21st. Death confirmed on 23/6/2012

11.       Jan 2 - Shukri Ahmed Ratib Abu Burghul, Radio presenter received gunshot wound to the head on December 30 on arriving at his home in the Damascus suburb of Darya after hosting his weekly programme on Radio Damascus. He died of his wound in a Damascus hospital.

12.       Jan 11 - Gilles Jacquier, French television producer and reporter killed by a rocket or a mortar shell in Homs.

13.       Jan 27 - Usama Burhan Idriss, Photographer killed in a shelling of Inshaatt neighbourhood in Homs.

14.       Feb 4 - Madhar Amr Tayara, Photographer killed near Homs.

15.       Feb 5 - Saleh Samih Murjan, Photographer killed by sniper fire in Karm Zeitun near Homs.

16.       Feb 21 - Rami Al-Sayed, Photographer, killed in an arbitrary bombardment of Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs.

17.       Feb 22 - Marie Catherine Colvin, American journalist, killed in a shelling of Baba Amr neighbourhood.

18.       Feb 22 - Rémi Ochlik, French photographer killed in a shelling of Baba Amr neighbourhood

19.       Feb 24 - Abdullah Khaled Awad, Photographer killed in a random shelling of Al-Kusair city near Homs.

20.       Feb 24 - Anas Al-Tarshah, Photographer killed in a random shelling in Homs.

21.       Mar 9 - Amr Kaaka, Photographer killed by the security forces in Doma near Damascus.

22.       Mar 25 - Jawan Mohammed Qatna, Kurdish photographer abducted by four men from his home in the town of Derbassiyeh, north of the eastern city of Al-Hassakeh. His body, which showed signs of torture, was found three hours later in a nearby village.

23.       Mar 26 - Walid Blidi, Algerian journalist holding British passport shot dead by the Syrian army near Azmareen village on Turkish border.

24.       Mar 26 - Nasim Entriri, Algerian journalist holding British passport shot dead by the Syrian army near Azmareen village on Turkish border.

25.       Mar 29 - Ahmed Mohamed Djibril Al-Rahmoun, Seventeen year old citizen journalist killed amid army shelling in Idlib.

26.       Apr 6 - Anas Al-Houlani, Seventeen year old media acivist killed in Homs.

27.       Apr 9 - Ali Shaaban, Lebanese camerman working for Al-Jadeed killed on Lebanon's side of the border.

28.       Apr 14 - Alaa Al-Din Hassan Al-Douricitizen journalist killed after he was arrested by Syrian armed forces on April 14 at a roadblock near the city of Hama .

29.       Apr 14 - Samir Shilb Al-Sham, 26-year old Syrian citizen cameraman killed near the Homs hospital.

30.       Apr 14 - Ahmed Abdullah Al-Abdullah, Syrian citizen camerman killed while filming an attack in Al-Damir.

31.       Apr 17 - Khaled Mahmoud Kabbisho, citizen journalist killed by Syrian armed forces after he was arrested from his home in the town of Idlib.

32.       May 4 - Abdul Gani Kaakah, citizen journalist killed during a demonstration in the city of Aleppo on 4 May.

33.       May 17 - Mohammed Hassan Azhari, 24-year-old citizen journalist tortured by the Syrian authorities following his arrest on April 13th and succumbed to his wounds in a Damascus prison.

34.       May 27 - Khaled Al-Bakr, citizen journalist found dead following violent bombings in Al Kassir, near Homs.

35.       May 27 - Amar Mohamed Souheil Zada, director of Al-Sham Information Network killed during bombing of Homs

36.       May 27 - Citizen journalist, Ahmed Adnan Al-Ashlaq killed in Homs

37.       May 27 - Fahmi Al-Naiimi Al-Ashlaq, aged 20, was targeted by the army as he was filming the army attacking Al Khalidiyah, a city near Homs.

38.       May 28 - Bassil Al-Shahade, a student filmmaker, was killed in Homs by a shell explosion launched by the Syrian army.

39.       May 31 - Abdulhameed Idriss Matar, 22-year old cameraman, was killed in Al Kassir, near Homs, after a tank of the Syrian army fired at him.

40.       June 13 - Ayham Youssef Al Hariri, 35-year old citizen journalist was killed in Houran by a missile of the Syrian army while covering a bombing and helping wounded civilians.

41.       June 15 - Bassim Darwish, Syrian citizen journalist, killed by the Syrian authorities while covering a bombing of the city of Rastane, near Homs.

42.       June 16 - Ahmad Hamada, a 27-year old Syrian videographer killed by the Syrian regime's security forces while covering the bombing of an old neighborhood in Homs.

43.       June 21 - Omar Al-Ghantawi, 18-year-old videographer and media activist, killed by a sniper while covering the shelling of Joubar and Sultanya, near Baba Amr.

44.       June 21 - Hamza Mahmoud Othman, 20-year old Syrian citizen videographer, killed by a sniper in Homs.

45.       June 26Wael Omar Barad, 31 year-old citizen journalist shot in the heart while filming fighting between the Syrian Free Army and Syria's regular army in Jarjaraz.

46.       June 28 - Samer Khalil Al-Salta known as 'Abou Yasser', 37 year-old citizen journalist died following the bombing of the city of Douma, near Damas. 

47.       June 28 - Mohammed Ali Al-Haymad, a citizen journalist was shot dead by the Syrian army while filming an army assault in Deraa. 

48.       July 2 - Mahmoud Hamdou Hallaq, 35-year old citizen videographer was shot while filming the Syrian Army attacking the city of Izaz near Aleppo.

49.       July 12 - Ihssan Al-Binni, a Syrian photographer was killed in the Damascus suburb of Dariya as he left work.

50.       July 14 - Iraqi journalist, Al Juburi Al-Kaabi killed in the city of Jaramana

51.       July 14 - Falah Taha, an Iraqi journalist killed in the city of Jaramana

52.       July 19 - Media activist and director of the Media Centre in Al Qusour, Mohammad Al-Husni, died due to shrapnel injuries in a bomb blast in Homs.

53.       Aug 2 - 21-year-old Syrian photographer and citizen journalist Zuhair Muhammed Al-Shaher was killed by the army in his hometown of Deir Ezzor as he was providing food and medical supplies to civilians in need. 

54.       Aug 3 - Citizen journalist Ahmad Salam, 23 years old, was shot by a sniper in Damascus.

55.       Aug 4 - Syrian TV presenter Mohammed Al-Saeed was kidnapped from his home in mid-July and executed by an Islamist militant group.

56.       Aug 11 - Syrian citizen journalist and army defector, Bara'a Yusuf Al-Bushi killed during a comb attack while covering a story in suburb of Al Tal.

57.       Aug 11 - Syrian reporter for SANA,  Ali Abbas, 37 attacked and killed at his home in Jdeidat Artouz, Damascus.

58.       Aug 20 - Japanese war reporter Mika Yamamoto, 45 shot in the neck while covering events in Aleppo. 

59.       Aug 22 - Omar Al Hamed Al-Zamel a citizen journalist who established a radio station, was killed during an aerial bombardment by government forces. 

60.       Aug 22 - Musab Al-Odah Allah, a Syrian reporter for Tishreen newspaper and opposition sympathiser was shot dead by Syrian army soldiers during a raid.

61.       Sep 4 - Journalist Mohamed Badeer Al-Qasim, who helped to establish a media centre in Deir Ezzor province, killed while reporting on a battle near in Homs

62.       Sep 6 - Citizen journalist Nawaf Al-Hindi, killed in aerial bombardment of Damascus suburb.

63.       Sep 9 - Filmmaker and poet Tamer Al-Awam, 34, killed in the northern city of Aleppo after being injured by a shrapnel shell while escorting the Free Syria Army.

64.       Sep 19 - Abdul Kareem Al Okdah, a reporter and photographer for Al Sham network, was killed in the city of Hama

65.       Sep 26 - Iran's Press TV correspondent Maya Nasser was killed by sniper fire in the city of Damascus. 

66.       Sep 26 - Abdul Aziz Ragheb Al-Sheikhcorrespondent at Al Sham network, was killed in Al Jabla district in Deir al-Zour.

67.       Sep 27 - Mohamad Fayad Askar, media activist, was killed by Syrian regime forces in Al Kousour district in Deir al-Zour.

68.       Sep - Anas Al-Abdullah, photographer killed during aerial bombardment of Damascus suburb, Al Tadamon.

69.       Sep - Tahseen Al-Toum citizen journalist killed in a bombardment of the Damascus suburb, Erbeen.

70.       Oct 2Ahmed Ali Saada, a citizen photographer, was killed in shelling by Assad forces in Damascus.  Saada also worked for the Syrian National Council.

71.       Oct 3 - Mona Bakkour was killed in an explosion at the officer’s club in Saadallah Al-Jabri Square in Aleppo. She was working for Thawra newspaper in Aleppo and managed the Syria Al-Qaalla website. She was in Al-Siyahi hotel overlooking the Saadallah Al-Jabri square when the explosion took place.  

72.       Oct 10 - Cameraman Mohammed al-Ashram "was killed by terrorists" in Deir Ezzor, the largest city in eastern Syria.The journalist was taking photographs when he was hit by two bullets, in his chest and his foot

73.       Oct 20 - Omar Abdul Razik Lattouf was killed (alongside his nephew) in Aleppo by Syrian forces as they attempted to return to Homs from Turkey

74.       Oct 20 - Mohammed Jumaa Abdul Karim Lattouf (Omar's nephew) was also killed in Aleppo by the Syrian forces

75.       Oct 23- Anas Al-Ahmed, an 18-year-old media spokesperson was killed while attending a funeral. 

76.       Oct 23 - Fatima Khaled Saad, a 22 year old blogger, died after being tortured by the Syrian intelligence services who seized her camera and mobile with which she was filming anti-regime protests.

77.       Nov 1 - Mohammad Khalil Al-Wakaa, a media activist, was killed during bombardment on al mayadeen city in Deir Ezzor

78.       Nov 2 - Hassan Haidar Al Sheikh Hammoud, a media activist, was killed while shooting videos in Homs suburbs

79.       Nov 5 - Cameraman Samer Khrayshi was killed while shooting videos of the military operations between the regime and Free Syrian army in Arbeen in Damascus suburbs.

80.       Nov 16 - Media activist Mustafa Kerman killed in bombing of Aleppo

81.       Nov 17 - Abdullah Hassan Kaaka, a media activist killed while under torture by regime forces

82.       Nov 18 - Media activist Mohammed Al-Khalid, executed by firing squad at hands of Free Syria Army brigade in Aleppo.

83.       Nov 19 - Mohammed Al-Zaheer Al-Naimi, a media activist killed after being caught in shelling bombardment in Al-Bouaida suburb of Damasacus

84.       Nov 20 - Huzan Abdul Halim Mahmoud, a media activist, was killed  in Ras al Ayn in Hasaka suburbs.

85.       Nov 22 - Basel Tawfiq, a Syrian state TV journalist, was shot dead in the Tadamun neighbourhood of Damascus.

86.       Nov 29 - Mohammad Koraytem, a journalist, was killed due to the bombardment on Daraya in Damascus suburbs

87.       Nov 30 - Citizen journalist, Marwan Hamid Charbaji was killed in a bombardment of the Daraya suburb of Damascus.

88.       Dec 4 - Naji Assaad, retired government newspaper journalist and contributor, killed by sniper fire in Tadamun neighbourhood of Damascus

89.       Dec 6 - Citizen journalist, Mohamed Khair Sheikh Qwaider was killed in a military bombardment of the Erbeen suburb of Damascus

90.       Dec 12 - Syrian state television journalist Anmar Yassine Mohamed was killed during bombing of the Al Mazzah suburb of Damascus

91.       Dec 22 - Haidar Al-Sumudi, cameraman for Syrian Arab Television, was shot dead by an armed terrorist group outside his home in Kfar Sousa in Damascus

92.       Dec 26 - Yezen Abu Al-Hamoui Al-Ali, a Syrian journalist who worked with Al Jazeera, was shot dead by snipers in the province of Hama

2013

93.       Jan 4 - Sohail Mahmud, a pro-regime journalist working for Dunya TV, was shot dead in Aleppo.

94.       Jan 13 - Fawaz Zu'bi was killed by government forces in Daraa

95.       Jan 15 - Shehab Ahmed Assad was killed in Homs by government forces

96.       Jan 17 - Belgian-born French journalist, Yves Debay was killed by sniper fire in Aleppo

97.       Jan 18 - Al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Hourani was shot dead by sniper fire in Daraa

98.      Jan 18 - Media activist Amjad Sioufi was killed in a bombardment in Damascus

99.      Jan 31 - Abdel Karim Nazir Ismail, freelancer killed in Arbin

100.    Jan 31 - Issam Obeid, freelancer killed in Arbin

101.    Jan 31 - Loay Al-Nimir, freelancer killed in Arbin

102.     Feb 2 - Media activist Nabil Al-Nabulsi killed while covering clashes in Daraa Izra

103.     Feb 3 - Citizen journalist Abdul Latif Khalil Khuder died from wounds sustained during bombing of Damascus

104.     Feb 6 - Mohammed Kurdi, a media activist was killed while covering clashes in Damascus

105.     Feb 11 - Media activist Zaid Abu Obeida was killed during bombing of Damascus

106.     Feb 12 - Citizen photographer, Hamada Abdel-Salam Al-Khatib was killed during bombing of Homs

107.     Feb 15 - Yousef Adel Bakri, a media activist and contributor to Aleppo News Network, died during shelling of Aleppo

108.     Feb 17 - Journalist and media activist, Mohammed Saeed Al-Hamwi died from injuries sustained during bombing of Qaboun district of Damascus

109.     Feb 17 - Media activist Mohamed Mohamed was killed by sniper fire in Damascus

110.     Feb 19 - Adnan Abu Abdo was killed by tank shelling in Daraa

111.     Feb 24 - French photojournalist Olivier Voisin died from injuries sustained during shelling of Idlib

112.     Feb 25 - Media activist Wael Abdul Aziz was killed while covering clashes in the Baba Amr district of Homs

113.     Mar 3 - Walid Jamil Amira, who reported for the Jobar Media Center, killed by sniper fire in Damsacus

114.     Mar 10 - Head of the Qaboun Media CenterAmr Badr Al-Deen Junaid killed by mortar fire in Damascus.

115.     Mar 10 - Qaboun Media Center's, Ghaith Abd Al-Jawad killed by mortar fire in Damascus.

116.     Mar 13 - Editor-in-chief of Anab Balady newspaper Ahmed Khaled Shehadeh was killed in shelling of the Daraya suburb of Damascus 

117.     Mar 14 - Mahmoud Natouf, reporter for Sana Al-Thawra, killed during government shelling of Damascus

118.     Mar 29 - Freelance reporter and videographer, Amer Diab, shot by government forces in Damascus

119.     Date unknown - The death of Abdul Raheem Kour Hassan, director of broadcasting for Watan FM was confirmed by the government on April 1

120.    Apr 24 - Freelance reporter and videographer, Youssef Younis killed covering clashes in Damascus

121.     May 27- Yara Abbas, a war correspondent for Al Ikhbariya, was shot dead by a sniper in Homs. 

122.     July 5 - Fida Al-Baali, a citizen journalist and a correspondent of Orient TV, died after a shell shrapnel penetrated and settled in his body while he was covering the shelling of the al-Qaboun quarter in Damascus.

123.     July 27 - Videographer and reporter for the Al Shaghur Multimedia Network, Muhammed Tariq Jaduakilled covering clashes in Jisr Al-Shaghur

124.     Aug 16 Shahir Al-Muaddamani, director of the media office at the Local Council of Daraya City killed by a shell while on his way to cover clashes in Daraya.

125.     Aug 20 - Muhammad Hassan Al-Musalama, media activist and videographer working with the Revolutionaries of Daraa Al-Muhata - Tarq Al-Sadd group killed while filming clashes in Daraa.

126.     Aug 28 - Hassan Mhanna, a reporter for Syrian news channel was killed in a suicide bombing in Aleppo.

127.     Sep 5 - Abdel Aziz Mahmoud Hasoun, correspondent for Masar Press, killed by tank shell while covering clashes in Jobar, Damascus

128.     Sep 28 - Murhaf Al-Modahi, a Syrian photographer, was killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

129.     Sep 29 - Freelancer citizen journalist, Nour Al-Din Al-Hafiri, killed while covering clashes in Damascus

130.     Oct 29 - Mohammed Said,  Syrian citizen journalist, was killed by snipers in Aleppo.

131.     Nov 19 - Mohamed Ahmed Taysir Bellou from Shabha Press killed in Aleppo

132.     Nov 23 -  Hasan Haroun known as Mohammad Al-Tayeb was killed in  Al Gouta suburb of Damascus

133.     Nov 23 - Ammar Tabajo known as Mohammad Al-Saeed was killed in Al Gouta suburb of Damascus.

134.     Nov 23 - Akram Al-Saleek  was killed in Al Gouta suburb of Damascus

135.      Nov 23 - Ammar Khaytee was killed in Al Gouta suburb of Damascus.

136       Nov 23 - Yasin Haroun was killed in Al Gouta suburb of Damascus. 

137.      Nov 24 -  Mohammad Yamen Naddaf worked for Shahba Press Agency and was killed while covering the         conflict in Aleppo.

138.      Dec 4 - Iraqi cameraman Yasser Faysal Al-Joumaili was shot dead by fighters linked to Al-Qaeda in the Idlib province  as he was headed to the Turkish border

139.     Dec 20 - Syrian photographer Molhem Barakat was only 18 years old when he was killed in Aleppo. He also worked as a freelancer for Reuters and died while covering the battle for the Kindi hospital. 

2014

140.     March 8 - Cameraman Omar Abdel Qader worked for pro-Assad Al Mayadeen station and was killed in Deir Ezzor while covering the clashes between regime forces and rebels.

141.    March 9 - Canadian photojournalist Ali Mustafa was killed by a barrel bomb while covering the attack in Aleppo. 

142.    April 14 - Correspondent for Al Manar television channel, Hamza Al-Hajj Hassankilled while covering the regime's takeover of Maalula.

143.    April 14 - Technician for Al Manar television channel, Halim Allawkilled while covering the regime's takeover of Maalula.

144.    April 14 - Cameraman for Al Manar television channel, Mohammad Mantash, killed while covering the regime's takeover of Maalula.

145.    April 25 - Freelance photojournalist, Mouaz Alomar was killed in an explosion in Hama province.

146.    May 5  -  Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim, a journalist working for Shaam News Agency, was killed by IS militants after being kidnapped in March

147.    June 20 - Egyptian Photojournalist, Ahmed Hasan Ahmed died after suffering a gunshot wound days earlier in Damascus

148.    June 27 - Cameraman for the SMART News Agency, Mohamed Taani died 6 days after sustaining shrapnel wounds while covering clashes in Daraa

149.    July 20 - American freelance journalist James Foley was executed in a video posted online by the IS islamist group

150.    Aug 2 - American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff was executed in a video posted online by the IS islamist group

151.     Sep 10 - Mohamed Al-Qasim, who worked for Rozana radio station, was killed in Idlib

152.    Sep 15 - Journalist and media activist Abdullah Hammad, was killed in Homs.

153.    Sep 15 -  Zaher Mtawe'e, a member of the Zebdine Coordination Committee was killed while covering clashes in Zebdine

154.    Oct 15  - Member of the Nabaa Media Foundation, Atallah Bajbouj, was killed covering clashes in Daraa

155.     Dec 8Orient TV journalist, Salem Khalil, was killed along with two colleagues when their car was hit with a missile  

156.     Dec 8 - Orient TV journalist, Rami Asmiwas killed along with two colleagues when their car was hit with a missile  

157.     Dec 8 - Orient TV journalist, Yousef el-Douswas killed along with two colleagues when their car was hit with a missile  

158.     Dec 10Aljazeera.net journalist, Mahran Al-Deeriwas killed covering clashes in the province of Daraa

 

Many of the killings documented by the DCMF can be seen in videos posted on YouTube.

The state of journalists and media in Syria was enough to spur Ghassan Ibrahim and number of his colleagues to set up a media trade union -- the Syrian Journalists Association. The aim of the syndicate is to have a professional structure that includes Syrians working in media.

It aims to give voice to the revolution and report on current events taking place in the country. In so doing, Ibrahim hopes, it will play its role as a civil institution that provides support to Syrian journalists who are subject to regular violations.

In an interview with Doha Centre for Media Freedom, Ibrahim called on his colleagues in Syria to join the union. Media is, he said "part and parcel of the revolution".

He previously set up a news website in 2006 called the Global Arab Network for Studies, Researches and News.

Why start a union for Syrian journalists?

Syrians lived under dictatorial police state ever since Baath party came to power. The media was completely sidelined as most of the leading newspapers and magazines were censored and their possessions confiscated, denying Syrian people the right to knowledge and information. Journalists were not immune from this general state of being but were regularly targetted. Official Syrian Journalists Syndicate was used to cover up the regime's clampdown on peaceful protests, to legitimise it through inviting leading figures from the regime while keeping silent on the government's blocking independent media's access to events. The Official Syndicate also ignored violations, torture and arrest against journalists, cases of which now count in the hundreds. For these reasons, we have decided to launch our union to fill in the void left by the Official Syndicate which is just another flip of the regime security apparatus.

How many members have joined the union so far and how do you keep in touch?

Membership is free and open to all Syrian journalists as well as Palestinians born in Syria or living there. It is also open to Syrian journalists inside and outside the country. The union is now based in Damascus and boasts of over 130 members who are in regular contact via modern technology. The members monitor daily violations against Syrian journalists from their positions around the world.

Could you tell us about your sources of funding?

We are self-funded since all members contribute to the funding of the union's activities. In spite of our limited resources we were able to form the union and set it to work. Union members also report on the events of the revolution, on a voluntary basis, convey them to the world and follow other Arab and global coverage of events in Syria. Our main goal is to produce high-quality news despite our modest resources.

In what way does the union contribute to reinforcement of the safety and security of Syrian journalists?

We will spare no effort to protect media people in Syria. We are currently publishing statements to the world so that the voice of journalists reaches the international public opinion and exercise pressure on the regime in order to force it to ease its censorship policy.

Could you share with us your experience as someone working in media in Syria?

I graduated from Damascus University in 2000, with a major in economics. After graduation, I worked as en economic researcher and a journalist. I realised very soon that I had to leave the country because the regime left no window of opportunity to the emergent generation on all levels, and especially on the level of media. The regime shifted from a dictatorship under Hafedh Assad to mafia-like system under his son Bashar, ruining the economy and denying the youth prospects of a better future. I left to Britain in 2002 where I continued my studies and work as journalist and specialist in the Arab World. That was what I did then until I decided to set up Global Arab Network for Studies, Researches and News in London in 2006.

Does this mean that you have never been victim to any violations in your work as journalist?

On the contrary, I have been subject to indirect forms of violations. Just because I am Syrian I am exposed on a daily basis to violations that limit my freedom of expression of opinion. I think this is the case with all Syrians, who fall victims to violations committed by the regime just because they happen to be Syrian citizens.

How do you see state and private media in Syria?

There is no media of any kind in Syria and all the media that exists is no more than a media desk at the service of security forces. The media just reiterates what is dictated to them by the security to spread lies and do harm to the opposition and the Syrian citizens. Its aim is to kill people and fuel sectarian strife.

Do you think that your association can be of use to those working for pro-government media institutions?

The Syrians proved that they can successfully carry out their revolution. And since media is part of the revolution, it just made sense that the people working in it would join the uprising. We wanted to convey the true nature of the revolution to world media networks and to call on our colleagues to join in this endeavor. We hope that our union will encourage more journalists to defect from pro-Assad media institutions.

This is my message to those who still deal with the regime “the regime is leaving, so think how you can justify your position”. We adopt a democratic approach that safeguards difference in opinion but we can’t turn a blind eye to the supporters of the regime who cover up its crimes. We are not also going to deal with people who cover up corruption and criminality unless they come back to their senses, recognise their mistakes and join the revolution.

How do you evaluate Arab and International coverage of violations against journalists in Syria?

There is a long history of violations in Syria and state police cracks down on media and strips them of all their rights.  Recently the regime stepped up its crackdown on the media because it is the voice and face of the revolution. Unfortunately, media coverage of violations against journalists in the country is not enough, even though they play a key role in the success of the revolution. We urge all parties to support them and cover arbitrary aggressions against them.

Why did you add an Arabic language service to Global Arab Network’s website, which was based in an English-speaking country?

Global Arab Network is a media organisation that covers all aspects of life in the entire Arab world. It is independent and aims to transmit the reality of the Arab world to the Western reader in English while showcasing the role of Arab culture and the importance of constructive dialogue.

When the Arab spring started we want to be part of it. Thus we decided to follow it through an Arabic service on our website. Before, we were not very enthusiastic about the Arabic service because we lost hope in media in Arabic under the complete control of Arab regimes. Now things have changed and media have become free and thus we started engaging with activists and journalists on our website in Arabic. This happens at a time when every Arab citizen has become a reporter who conveys reality accurately, challenging oppression and dictatorship.

 

While French courts look for answers into the death of reporter Gilles Jacquier in Homs, two Swiss journalists Sid Ahmed Hammouche and Patrick Vallélian, who were with him in Syria, tell the DCMF what exactly happened on January 13th.

Boom! A loud bang shook the Alawite district of New Akrama, close to the University of Homs. It is 3.20pm on Wednesday January 11th. Our black minivan is stopped by a demonstration of supporters of President Bashar al-Assad.  We are sitting inside with France 2 cameraman Christophe Kenck, reporter Gilles Jacquier of  the French  current-affairs  TV programme “Envoyé  Spécial”, his wife the freelance photographer Caroline Poiron, and their fixer Mireille,

Ahead of us, about 40 young people, mostly men, very excited, are singing their love for the regime, waving placards in English and Arabic to welcome the Syrian army.

They tumbled on our car a few minutes earlier, out of nowhere, while we were parked next to a garden and a small amusement park full of children. We were then waiting for a Flemish television crew, also part of the  trip.

For several months, the government in Damas has not been able to control parts of Homs that are now held by the Free Syrian Army.

Horror movie  scenario

The nightmare begins.  It looks like the script for a horror film that will cost the life of Gilles Jacquier, one of the most successful French journalists and a very experienced war reporter. After the explosion, civilians opened the doors of our vehicle, prompting us to go and see the point of impact. Christophe Kenck is hesitating, but Gilles and Mireille are already following the Belgians who have taken the  lead.

We choose to stay behind to watch, and get further away from the van as it could be a target.

Around us, the condensed security forces have vanished in minutes.

Only an armed military has stayed with us, along with a Shabeeha, a pro-Bashar militia with his Kalashnikov, and a very animated young man wearing a white jumper. He pushes us to go to to a garden that leads to a school, about 60 metres to our right. He will be coming back to us again with the same request.

We decline while walking back carefully in an almost empty street. About 30 seconds later, another explosion occurs a few metres away from us and blows us. We dive to the ground without damage, but are feeling groggy.

Surprising nonchalance

We understand that this visit ,which has been organised for our group made of a dozen foreign journalists, turned into a trap.

We don’t wait any longer and turn back while our cameras are constantly rolling.

We see men moving on the rooftops - snipers? We’re not sure, so we stick to the skirts of the military who keep telling  us to go back to the place  of the  first  impact, where Gilles Jacquier  is now located with his wife Caroline and the other journalists.

"It's nothing. These are sound bombs, "he said, smiling.

Strangely, the few security men who remained with us are calm, even though foreigners are in danger.

When the third and fourth explosions happen, we are even further back, at the crossroads. Soldiers have ordered our frightened driver to leave the area without us, and return to the hotel.  We summon him to stay.

Suddenly, an ambulance and taxis carrying some victims pass before us loudly. A soldier shows us the way to the hospital. We find Christophe at the Al Nahda clinic, a charitable institution that treats the poor. "Gilles is dead," he says, crying before he falls into our arms.

It's chaos in this humble hospital. There are armed men of the intelligence service, policemen, soldiers, civilians. Blood is everywhere. Shouting. Many come to us saying, "Look at the effects of the shells of freedom."

We run up to the floor where Caroline is clinging to the body of Gilles, alone. He is lying on a bed, barely covered by a blanket. No blood, still warm, he could simply be asleep.

Two Syrian television crews (Al and Al Dounia Surya) point their camera on Gilles. Caroline refuses by threatening to take legal action if an image exits the room.

Our fear - that the Syrian media use the images of Gilles on his death bed for political  purposes, explaining that he is the first French victim of terrorism in Syria.

Save  time

We tell Syrian officials parading in front of us that the "case" is now handled by Paris and Damascus. The message is clear: no one touches Gilles’ body until the French authorities are here.

We avoid all the traps, one after the other, from the fake doctor to the fake nurse... But on several occasions, armed men are coming back to see us and offer to transport the body to Damascus or to perform an autopsy on the  body in our presence, and with the permission of Gilles’ wife.

Many times we are asked to confirm that we have been attacked by terrorists.

Finally, when two observers of the Arab League get here just to "observe the death" they refuse to stay behind the door to protect us because they have to "eat at the hotel."

France’s ambassador, Eric Chevallier, reaches the hospital at around 9.30 pm with a security team to evacuate us in a heavy atmosphere.

Anti-French slogans

We rush downstairs, under the protection of the French security. Outside, pro-Bashar demonstrators, some of which hold candles, are chanting anti-French and anti-terrorism slogans.

They repeat in unison what their president said  on  TV  the day  before – that his country is  not facing a revolution but terrorist attacks.

We ride in armored vehicles towards Damascus.

An ambulance is transporting Gilles’ body. The next evening, we leave Syria on a flight chartered by France Televisions. We land in Paris at night with Gilles’s remains.

Back to square one, where we boarded on the Amman-Damascus Air France flight with the French crew.

Where the story started

We need to get through to Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a French-Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian Christian nun who invited us and organised the press trip approved by the Syrian authorities and under their responsibility.

Mother Agnes is very comfortable in the middle of the Syrian security services  and promises that we will be free of our movements, of our meetings and  to cover the stories we want, in order "to rectify the propaganda lead by the  Western media, the "Goebbels-Atlantic" propaganda in her own words.

Swept by icy cold air, the Syrian capital is rather peaceful. Security is still pervasive and the slightest manifestation lead by insurgents is repressed in a blood.

There is a lot of  mistrust, and we need to be extra careful to meet our sources.

Imposed minder, failed promises

The “Envoyé Spécial” team wanted to stay in Damascus, while others wanted to leave the capital. Another problem: Mother Agnes has imposed a minder, Mireille, to accompany Gilles.

Officially, the young Lebanese woman was working as a translator. But sometimes, she acted like a little soldier serving the nun and the Syrians, preventing us from travelling to certain areas "for security reasons."

Then the nuns’ promises fall one after the other. We were supposed to be free. We discover that we have to stay in groups and must receive green lights of the Ministry of Information to get around but we can never meet their leaders.

Swiss prudence

Our typical Helvetic wariness will save us, as well as our distrust when we arrived at As Safir Hotel an hour and a half later, in Homs, and especially Sid Ahmed Hammouche’s anxiousness as he is reminded of scenes of the recent civil war in Algeria that he covered extensively.

As we come out of the minivan, we are greeted by about 40 soldiers, armed civilians and intelligence agents who stare at us.

"Which one is the team from French television?" one of them asks Sid Ahmed Hammouche. We will see many of these faces again later, on the scene.

Mysterious circumstances

The conditions in which Gilles  Jacquier died  are still mysterious.

Actually, nothing says that he was the victim of direct mortar fire as his body has remained untouched, with some visible round impacts on his heart. These impacts are inconsistent with death by grenade or mortar.

Were other weapons were used against Gilles Jacquier? Was he directly targeted? Should we see his death as a state murder? A blunder of the Free Syrian Army (the main opposition group which believes in an armed struggle) as they have spent most of their time defending their positions in these areas surrounded by the army? Or is it an attack lead by a small group of uncontrollable Salafists?

In any case, Damascus did not wait to hear the outcome of its investigation to condemn a terrorist attack. A thesis that is convenient for them to close the country to foreign media.

For us, it is clear that we fell into a trap.

Many questions are bustling around in our heads.  French prosecutors are asking themselves the same ones and have opened an investigation for murder.

What happened to the men who were supposed to secure our convoy of foreign journalists in Homs? Why did the explosions suddenly target the neighbourhood where we had just arrived? Why was our minivan blocked by the security’s vehicles and by this pro-Bashar demonstration few minutes before Gilles died? How do you explain that people wearing civilian clothes were there, encouraging us to go where the explosions were about to take place?

In the footage shot by Belgian TV channel, one of the young men even announces the blast at the house before it occurs. Why did another one push us to go to school before the explosion? What is the role of Mother Agnes, who says she is now in danger?

There is one thing we are sure of, however, we did trust the Syrian authorities who said  they  would protect us and let us do our work as witnesses, even if we know the limits of controlled journalism.

We regret it bitterly; we mourn a brilliant colleague, and a friend who leaves a courageous woman and children behind.

Fear is read on faces

Nonetheless it was necessary, in our opinion, to go in that locked and paranoid Syria, run by a dictatorial regime to testify, to give voice also to the brave opponents who took risks meeting us. And to read the fear on the faces and read the messages of millions of Syrians who speak with their eyes.

Yes, in this country, eyes speak, as Gilles had noticed on our last evening in Damascus in a giant café. He was amused to see that the same day their president had promised democracy, amnesty and a better future, smokers of shisha, card  and  badgamon players remained walled in their forty-year  old  silence. They are very familiar with this vicious regime. They are exhausted by it.

By Sid Ahmed Hammouche and Patrick Vallélian.

The Doha Centre for Media Freedom published this article on January 16, 2012.

Rami al-Jarrah, a Syrian activist, prominent blogger and media trainer shares his thoughts on media freedom and describes why going back to his home country would be ‘like committing suicide’ at the moment. Late last year, he encountered life-threatening situations after the regime discovered his identity, uncovering his pseudonym ‘Alexander Page’.

How would you describe the current state of the media in Syria, in terms of press freedom?

The Syrian regime depends much of its strategy on the media and a big part of that is not allowing foreign or Arab journalists into the country. Of course over the past months some media outlets have applied for visas and been granted them, but only to be accompanied by governmental minders. This makes their job almost impossible as activists who meet with them are in grave danger of being caught. In fact, this was one way the regime would compromise effective activists. Even state media crew are not given full access to the country, a clear sign the government has no respect for press freedom whatsoever.

You’ve recently been in the spotlight for your work in activism, but it’s actually been a much longer journey for you. When did it begin?

Given that my family were always active in voicing their concerns of the Assad regime and their past atrocities, I had a clear idea of what the regime was capable of. I first arrived to Syria for a visit in 2004. At the airport I was accused of forging my passport and interrogated for days on end. During the next three years, I was called in for endless questioning about my parent’s background and what they were up to. I was not allowed to leave the country which led me to settle down, unwillingly.

By the time I was granted a passport and allowed to leave the country, I was working as an import/export consultant for a large firm in central Damascus.

In January 2011 I became active online, in an attempt to promote a possible uprising in Damascus, obviously inspired by events that took place in Tunisia. We attempted a number of demonstrations in February but things finally picked up in Mid March. I took part in the first mass demonstration in Central Damascus at the Ommayad mosque in the old city and managed to film it and the secret police who went on to beat the protesters and detain them for their taking part.

On the 25th of March I was detained and held for three days in a political security branch in Damascus. After my release I went on to a deeper level of activism such as organising, filming, documenting and interviews with western media.

During the past few years you must have built a list of contacts in the media across the spectrum, then. Do you think anyone working with the opposition has a good media strategy for the future?

I’m quite sure that much of the fallback that we are seeing in the solidness of the Syrian opposition is due to the absence of an effective media strategy. I actually took part in forming one and presenting it to one of the parties but this was not taken advantage of. We are now undergoing a media project that seeks to strengthen citizen journalism and how it is bridged to Arab and western media, I can’t speak on exact details at this moment but I can say that this will surely be the largest contribution to media in Syria yet.

That sounds interesting and should help increase access to information for Syrians in the future. For now, it seems to be a propaganda war between the activists and pro-government channels. If one was to switch on the television or pick up a paper, what’s the main message out there and how is it related to the audience?

Access to state media is a piece of cake. Syria does not block international satellite channels but rather chooses to use propaganda and tactics like that used in the “Zainab al Hosni” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/world/middleeast/woman-believed-killed-by-syrian-forces-turns-up-on-tv.html  story to discredit media. This was when a young lady’s body was mutilated and beheaded. Activists reported on it and then attention was raised to the fact that this was not even Zainab who was killed. Again the Syrian regime have depended much of their strategy on the media and the main message that filters is “conspiracy, armed terrorist groups and killing the Arab resistance to Israel. This is obviously playing with the audience’s senses on exactly what is going on in the country.

When do you predict media freedom will be enjoyed in Syria? In Libya, for example, there is definitely more of it after the fall of Gadaffi. Are there lots of upcoming bloggers, reporters and photographers in Syria now?

We don’t expect to see free media in Syria before the regime has been toppled. The number of bloggers, citizen journalists and videographers is outstanding. Comparing Syria to other countries gives it far superior statistics; I think this is mainly due to the fact that activists have had to depend on themselves to raise international awareness on exactly what is going on in Syria due to the governments set limitations on free media.

Before the uprising, was there more or less media freedom than what we are witnessing now?

Before the uprising, living in Syria really gave people the impression they were isolated from the outside world. We would only see what was happening there but not really allowed to show “there” what was happening here. Once the uprising did begin, although the Syrian regime blamed it on foreign powers and terrorist elements, they still worked very hard on trying to convince the general public that there was a reform programme in the works.

One example would be a new morning show that brought people on to talk about what was happening in the country. Of course those presented on the show were no more than citizens who had complaints on their living standards, rather than those talking about what was really on showcase. Basically, the regime used these surface changes to steer citizens back they way they wanted. Effectiveness is another issue.

After the regime discovered you were using a pseudonym, ‘Alexander Page’, you fled almost immediately. Do you plan to go back to Syria?

I definitely plan on going back to Syria, although as long as the current regime is still in power I would be committing suicide by attempting to do so. I think the earliest phase that I would be able to step in would be once at least one city had been totally liberated like what we saw in Benghazi in Libya for example.

For outsiders, it’s difficult to know exactly what is going on in Syria because of the restrictions on foreign media inside the country. What is the western media getting wrong when covering Syria?

One major problem with western journalists in Syria is basically understanding exactly what is going on, given that they are depending their newsfeed on a number of different sources without actually seeing any of this for themselves. This sort of leads to lifeless reports that don’t bridge the exact state of the situation. Unless the source is well able to explain the atmosphere of the uprising I think the real picture is never really portrayed. Following the political side of things for media outlets, it does sort of effect the stories they are looking to cover. For example the ongoing empathy of a possible civil war in Syria has led many journalists to search for signs of related events which in Syria’s case area not extreme but made to look that way once reported. This is definitely another way the media is losing grip of the real picture. Again, the main problem seems to remain that journalists have not been allowed to freely seek, research and report the uprising themselves.

Recent news suggests foreign media will be allowed back in to Syria. Do you think this will be practiced by the regime?

If the regime comes to any agreement of letting journalists in, it will be to steer them by monitoring and limiting their every move, thus having some sort of control on the stories going out. It’s likely to choose journalists that they know, and then allowing them in to compromise those essential activists…the Assad regime will at no point grant full access to the country. Proof of the current phony attempt to convince the general public that they are allowing media in is that many journalists are choosing not to apply for visas, but instead are smuggled in and therefore more able to really cover what’s going on

Syrian army shelled last Thursday 22 March two media centres in the two cities of Sirmin and Azaz, the first near Idlib and the second near Aleppo.

Sources in the Syrian opposition in Sirmin said that the army attacked the media centre in the city with cuneiform bombs, destroying it and injuring two staff.

In a phone interview with DCMF, Mohamed Hamamish, the head of Sirmin opposition association, confirmed that the media centre was hit by three cuneiform bombs, injuring a Syrian journalist with a British passport and a journalist activist working at the centre.

"The attack started on Thursday evening 22 March, with the army using three cuneiform bombs. Media person nicknamed Hamam Sirmini was seriously injured along with another journalist from Zawya mount who holds a British Passport and who contracted minor injury. The two are currently treated in a residential house in the city," said Hamamish.

 Hamamish added that all filming and broadcast equipment which the activists used to cover and document the revolution in Idlib were destroyed in the attack. "Our revolution archive was also destroyed and burned, including all the videos and pictures we had taken until last Thursday," confirmed Hamamish.

Informed sources said that the Syrian army launched a rocket on a media centre in the city of Azaz, causing material damage and no reports of casualties.

The same sources talked about deliberate targeting by the Syrian army of media centres.

Eyewitness also spoke about seeing reconnaissance planes tasked with identifying locations of media centres by determining their broadcast signals and coordinates.

These planes were used in Baba Amr and Khaldya neighbourhoods in Homs, where two media centers have been targeted over the last couple of months.

In Syria, all institutions suffer a crippling weakness and the press is no exception. This is clear from the confused manner by which media dealt with the outbreak of protests which first started in the locality of Dara.

As a journalist, I know that the Syrian media is working under tight state control, especially at times of economic or foreign policy crisis. But the question now is, what is it like for members of the media to cover a crisis of a prime security order which is hitting a police state?

As expected, the regime came up with a security plan to address the political unrest instead of a social and economic approach to ease the tension. According to the plan, the media is a key propaganda tool that justifies and legitimises the security clampdown to be undertaken.

A media campaign titled “Conspiracy and Sectarian Strife” was, therefore, launched by the media advisor to the president, Butheina Shaaban, during her first press conference on the ongoing crisis.

“A plot of sectarian strife targeting Syria”, Butheina said. President Bashar Al Assad would seize on the catch word “strife” and use it several times in the future.

That’s how the genie of media was released out of its bottle. It adopted a curious approach which does not deny the existence of protests but justifies crackdown on them as well as the killing of “infiltrators”, “conspirators’ and “gunmen.”

The media does not give the accurate figures of dead civilians, focusing attention instead on casualties in the military and police who they say are killed by armed gangs’ fire.

State media on the offensive

Official media was forced to go on the offensive when the security solution failed and the legendary popular resistance proved to be unbreakable. It was also outsmarted by the media performance of anti-regime activists.

Becoming bullish in its new stance, state media was trapped in denying news of the protests broadcasted by foreign networks which they dubbed “Strife Channels”, a term that fuels sectarian sentiments and justifies the “conspiracy theory” promoted by the regime.

The military participated through its electronic websites in this campaign, fabricating video clips and posting them online. It also ran statements of false eyewitnesses that were blown out of proportion. The aim of these posts is to allow state media to use them and expose their fake nature, delegitimizing all the online content about the political unrest. Such was the case with the young girl from Homos, Zeineb Alhisni and the reports on babies dying at Hamah hospital.

'I resigned over the media’s Immoral coverage'

Several generations of Syrians, including mine, have for long entertained hopes of revolution in spite of their frustrations. These hopes became clearer when children of Dara expressed them in a simple caption on the walls of one of the schools. The caption read: “People want to topple the regime”. It was for the first time in their modern history that Syrians were faced with one of two choices, to be with or against the revolution.

As someone who grew up in a fear-inducing environment, I found myself, in the context of the killing and siege of Dara and its countryside as well as the brutal repression in Duma, Baniass and Allzqah, in a position where as a journalist I have to be a false witness and a gun in the hands of a media institution that has gone on the rampage.

One single scene that will remain indelible in my memory put an end to my inner conflict and doubts. It was when I saw women and children from Baida locality facing army tanks a day after a video had been posted of police and thugs humiliating people of Baida and treading over them. The video was repeatedly ran by international media. Upon seeing this display of courage, I issued a statement in which I said I backed peaceful revolution. I also withdrew from Syrian journalists syndicate over their immoral coverage of the vents.

Fleeing for my life

Though it eased my conscience, my decision to go to be open about my position from the revolution increased my fear of retaliatory measures by the regime, especially that the military has launched a website titled “Trying Traitor Iyad Issa”.

During my interrogation, security officials used to tell me that I have to choose between two scenarios: either to back track on my decision on the ground that what was going on was not a revolution but a movement of orthodox militias or to die at the hand of the street which was convinced of my “unpatriotic” position.

As revoking my decision to back the revolution was not an option for me and faced with the appalling conditions of detention, I made up my mind to flee the country for my life and to maintain my position. I left for Beirut on August 5 2011 instead of going to police station to resume interrogation as I was requested to do by phone.

The propaganda

In its coverage of the revolution, the Syrian media in its print, broadcast and online forms, was remarkable in its extremist call for the army to crackdown on the protests. Private media outlets in particular were responsible for organising defamation campaigns targeting number of Arab personalities and states, and accusing them of conspiring against Syria. They carried out these campaigns on behalf of official media which could not do them because they spoke for the regime and reflected its policies.

Dunia TV, which is owned by businessmen, spearheaded media warfare against protesters and the positions of the international community. It featured anti-revolution artists as well as other guest who openly called for killing protesters.

Ads Institution, which reports to Information ministry and controls advertisement market, pays huge expenses and allowances to these guests.

Anti-government news faces repression

Right from the start of unrest, the regime decided to give its own media a free hand, reporting as they please and taking the pictures that suit their policies. The regime reinforced this trend by barring Arab and world media from accessing the country as Al Jazeera bureau in Damascus was first put under siege by thugs and regime supporters, only to be shut down later following the resignation of its chief.

Al Jazeera English journalist, Dorothy Parvaz, was arrested by security forces at Damascus airport, while other journalists like Jordan Times' Shamila and Tailor Lack went missing on their way to Syria.

Just as the Syrian authorities treated foreign journalists with intolerance, it also used a policy of arrest, torture and arbitrary disappearance against journalists and bloggers who dared to cover news or take pictures that are contrary to the regime's narrative of the events. The same treatment was also reserved to journalists who supported the revolution.

This policy lead to repeated arrest of many young journalists like Amer Matar, Assem Hamshu, Rudi Uthman, Umar Al-Asaad, Hanadi Zahlutt and Malik Nashwani, to name just a few.

Bloggers and journalists working in official media also were not spared arrest. The regime detained Lina Ibrahim and Mohammed Gamal Tahann who work at state owned Tashreen newspaper as well as blogger Razan Gazawi, among others.

Journalist groups hop on the bandwagon

It didn't come as a surprise when Syrian journalists' syndicates condoned the regime's policy of arrest and torture against journalists. Like other professional unions, it was set up to cheer and support the regime when necessary and not to oppose it.

It never occurred to anyone to decry statements by the chair of the journalists union, Murad, and his deputy, Mustafa Mughdad, when they attacked, on television, the protesters and justified the killing of people demanding freedom.

News, by any means possible

In spite of these appalling conditions, activists were able to find their way through thanks to the potential that modern telecommunication technology put at their disposal. Activists filled in the vacuum left by the absence of professional journalists, challenging the regime with thousands of reporters and eyewitnesses who came into being overnight. In this context, cellular phones and personal computers became mobile news agencies, taking shots and posting them to Twitter and YouTube.

Activists set up webpages for all districts in Syria, calling them "coordination networks". These networks disseminated real-time video clips, shots and news related to each district. With time, Thuraya satellite phones together with laptops enabled live broadcasting to special web sites and to satellite channels like Aljazeera Mubasheer.

It only makes sense that the regime in Syria has lost media war because it deals with the 21st century with a mindset suitable to the eighties of the previous century.

Interview compiled by  .

Commonly known as ‘Abu Jafar Al-Homsi’, Badawi M'gharbal is a Syrian activist who has reported events on the ground since the start of the Syrian uprising. He has kept Arab satellite television stations updated about protests and atrocities in areas including in the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs. He documented events through his mobile phone and camera and much of his footage made it way to several of the region’s television stations. 

The following interview, by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, shines a light on the courageous role that Al-Homsi and other activists played in spite of the Syrian regime’s refusal to allow access to international media to cover events.

DCMF: When and how did you start your work as a media activist in the revolution?

Al-Homsi: I first participated in peaceful protests along with a group of young people from Homs when the revolution erupted on March 15, 2011.  After that, we followed the lead of activists in Tunisia and Egypt and started thinking about how to use the internet to report on the popular uprising for satellite television. I was among the first activists who used mobile phones to convey the truth of what was going on to the world. Although we started taking shots with mobiles with simple specifications, we were able later to use more advanced mobile phones and cameras before we finally began using satellite internet equipment.       

I didn’t have any contact with the media before the revolution. Yet, like other activists, developments on the ground forced me to tap into this very important communication tool and counter the regime’s policy to impose a blackout on the country by targetting activists.

In addition to filming and uploading videos on YouTube, I was one of the first Syrian activists who featured in Arab broadcasts to comment on events, especially on treatment of activists during Friday protests. I also went online to comment via Skype on the developments on the ground, an act which exposed me to more danger.  

I also engaged with media through other forms. For example, I prepared tissue and leather banners which demonstrators raised in protests, accompanied western media delegations who wanted to go to Homs and participated in setting up media offices in a number of areas and neighborhoods. 

Did satellite television invite you and your colleagues to their programmes, or did you take the initiative yourself?

We asked them because we wanted to expose the lies of the regime, which claimed that we were fake and that we were not speaking from inside the country. For the first five months of the revolution, the regime insisted that we were speaking to televisions from their own studios (abroad). Our appearance from inside Syria dealt a heavy blow to the regime and its propaganda machine.

Tell us about the problems that you and your colleague face…

Our main problem has to with the fact that we are being targetted by the regime, which uses its snipers, security forces and ‘Shabiha’ (state-sponsored militia) to monitor protests and target any one filming either by mobile phone or camera. The regime also targets all activists who chant slogans in protests, recognising them through videos uploaded online or ran on television. It also targets activists and media spokespeople who feature on satellite television.

Our problems are compounded by the communication challenges we face in our work. These include temporarily cutting off telephone lines and internet connections, forcing us to take our videos to Lebanon to upload them. To overcome this, we acquired satellite internet equipment, with the risk of having our offices detected by the regime through the signals of our satellite dishes. The regime, on several occasions, shelled our offices which we used along with foreign journalists as a place of stay.

The regime also banned selling cameras and spray paint which activists use to write freedom slogans.

What are the most dangerous situations that you have been through or to which you were a witness?

I was shot twice while filming, the first shot hit my foot when the army opened fire on me and the second shot was when a member of ‘Shabiha’ stabbed me in my forehead in the presence of Arab league monitors.

I will never forget when my camera was pierced by a bullet. I still keep this camera and entertain hopes that when the regime collapses, it will have its place in the national museum because it bears witness to its fear of the truth and exposure of its crimes.

I also have to say that the number of times I was targeted while filming cost me 15 cameras and mobile phones. Some were destroyed and some confiscated from me by force.

Because of my activism my father was injured and our house destroyed when it was shelled by the army.

You were one of the journalists attacked in Baba Amr amid the killing of French photographer Rémi Ochlik and American journalist Marie Colvin. Can you tell us about how they were killed?

The regime was embarrassed when teams of western journalists succeeded in entering Homs, broadcast their objective reports and condemned and exposed the violation of people's right to protest and peaceful expression of opinion. So it set out targetting our media offices, which were likely to host foreign journalists, because the regime was aware that we helped them do their work and be informed about developments on the ground. 

In spite of limited resources, members of the media in the Syrian revolution are covering nationwide protests nationwide and reporting on what activists call the ‘the kingdom of silence.’

With only mobile phones and a slow internet connection, activists have succeeded in broadcasting the killing, torture and the shooting of demonstrators.

These journalists, professional or citizen, helped convey the voice of those gathered in the streets of Syria to the world. They later started using sophisticated Thuraya phones and satellite internet which the regime cannot track down, with a speed of more than 4 mega or 12 megabytes.

Overcoming the fear barrier

Media activist Jassem Abdelaziz from Homs says that starting out was difficult. “Everybody was afraid of being pursued, arrested or killed. Such was the fear barrier that affected us all. Back then, death was not what mattered but rather how to keep activists away from sniper fire and security incursions, because if an activist was lost it was very difficult to replace him with one who was still being trained.

"Security intelligence infiltrated during the first months of the revolution through our Skype programmes and Facebook pages and arrested a number of media activists. But this has changed a great deal as media activism developed, leading activists to use code names and messages and therefore prevent further infiltration."

Documenting the truth

Basel is the code name of a 20 year old member of the Neighborhood and Revolution Council Association in Homs. He documented a series of violations against activists and was known for his ability to quickly climb over buildings, wait for a long time until the protest was near, and then film it.

Basel usually takes important shots of the way police handle protesters.

"During the early months of the revolution we didn't reveal the identity of photographers who were killed or arrested by the intelligence, fearing about the safety of their families and loved-ones," says Basel. "Many media activists were arrested at the beginning of the revolution or randomly killed by snipers who did not know them and their value to us. Sometimes, however, they are killed with premeditation. With time, more and more activists overcame the fear barrier and started to feature in satellite televisions to talk about the revolution like Abu Jafar al-Homsi, Omar Tillawi and Bilal Al-Himsi. Some other activists did not disclose their identities; these are those who pass through military checkpoints separating the city of Homs in two halves. Once an identity of an activist becomes known, he will then be kept in certain specific areas or work secretly and with a high risk," adds Basel

Arrest and torture

Twenty-three year old Salem Mohamed, a media activist from Homs, says that there are different ways of arrests, pursuits and torture in the dark cells of the regime's prisons.

He told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that he spent four months moving between Homs-based air intelligence and its political security branch and that he was subjected to all kinds of torture.

"I was arrested in a military incursion in a neighborhood in Homs. My name was on a list of people who were pursued for arrest and I believed it was the result of a tip-off by one of the agents who infiltrated the neighborhood where I used to film protests and prepare flags and banners.

"They handcuffed and blindfolded me and took me away from home. I remember that they chose to carry me in a tank because the bus which was supposed to transport me was full of people. I was kicked, beaten and insulted all the way to the air intelligence headquarters where I started a long journey with torture, a journey that is familiar to many, and it included beating sensitive parts of my body like my head."

Torture by ‘Balanco’

Mohammed says that ‘Blanco’ is the worst kind of torture.

“It means tying the person's hands to a very low cell roof and keeping him hanging, trying to stand on his toes. This means that half of the person's body weight is lifted by his hands and the other half by his toes.

"I was expecting all the kinds of torture that I was subjected to except the ‘Blanco’. Security elements and Shebiha treated me like a spectacle for entertainment, torturing me night and day and taking turns, trying all sorts of ways imaginable to hurt me.

"I was also tortured during investigation and accused of treason and of being a sell-out who received funding from abroad just because I used my camera to film peaceful protests.

“After days of detention in air intelligence premises, I was transferred to political security branch where I was also tortured. Two weeks before my release, I was transferred to the central prison which was to me like a five-star hotel compared to the previous detention facilities. After that I was referred to the military prosecution which in its turn referred me to a military court for trial. Then, I was freed temporarily pending my trial. I fled and I'm still wanted by security authorities."

Testimonies put forward by Jasem, Basel and Salem echo others documented by international rights groups.

In spite of the huge challenges they face, Syrian media activists were able, especially in Homs, Idlib and Dara, which are the most dangerous, to bring bombshells in what is called ‘revolution media’ relying on humble resources at a time when the IT revolution is in full gear.

To follow all of our coverage on Syria's media revolution, visit our Special Report. 

Of all the Arab Spring revolutions, Syria’s has been unmatched in its extensive use of modern communication tools. Even though Syrians have little exposure to communication technology and services under Assad, their interest in them doubled after the outbreak of the popular uprising. More and more Syrians started to get interested in programmes like Skype, activists have told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF).

Thuraya boom

Thuraya satellite phone, a regional satellite phone provider,  became very popular among activists due to instances of communication lines cut-off by Syrian army when it conducted incursions and closed down areas where people take to the streets. The networks were cut off for a week in some places and for more than three months in areas like Baba Amr in Homs, parts of Dara, Jisr Shugur and Dir Zur.

“Thuraya is the only option left for activists to keep in touch with the outside world, especially in inland areas. Activists in border regions used cellular mobile phones from neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to stay in contact with the world. Thuraya phones and other devises were also brought from these countries across the Syrian border. With friends who live in these countries willing to recharge them, Thuraya phones became the most useful tool of communication in spite of their high prices which sometimes can go up to $ 3000 US a piece,” says IT technician Yarub Ali.

The art of camouflage

Explaining storage technics that activists use to avoid the confiscation of these devices, Yarub says “We used to turn off phone mobiles before storing them in plastic bags away from the reach of people. We use them only when necessary. These mobile phones became widely used when activists found out that local mobile providers are controlled by security forces which ordered them to cut off of the service.”

“Thuraya provided a wide range of services for us including voice, sms texts, sending data and fax with a speed of 9600 megabyte per second and voicemail in addition to the services of holding-on and forwarding messages. There is also GPS system which helped us carry out group communication and facilitated coordination among us,” says Abdullah Walid, coordinator with satellite televisions.

“We can use mobiles to call and receive calls when we are in a place covered by Thuraya and we can as well put mobiles on GSM mode in areas covered by companies which have agreements with this system. But this last option involves certain risks as security forces can hack calls by infiltrating the network,” he adds.

Walid elaborates further: “our phones have been tracked down and jammed by the regime but we were able to report on all events that took place in the country. We used different camouflage technics like removing the battery after calling, changing places when calling and using a coded language to communicate between us.”

IT weapon

Activists used live transmission technology via Skype and cellular phones. “Faced with government’s censorship and a slow internet connection, we had to buy more efficient and sophisticated devices like iDirect 300 which speeds up uploading operations to up to 18 and 4.2 megabytes,” says Ala Abderrahman, an activist in Hamah.

The activist in charge of coordination with satellite televisions via Skype and who chose not to reveal his identity says that he has some issues with “the confidentiality of IT programmes and applications, yet experts assert that Skype and VoIP are safe to use and enjoy high degree of confidentiality. Skype in particular protects the privacy of correspondence and keeps secret and sensitive data safe. We meet every day online to report on events and agree on our daily statements and news bulletins.”

“Very often activists are compelled to use “proxy break” software and covert technics and to decode sent and received data to secure their communications,” he adds.

Said Al-Mohamed, activist from rural Duma near Damascus in charge of data and networks, contends that “you need high speed to break proxy programme, which you will never get. This is why we try to secure “space nets” devises to get rid of censorship… it’s too difficult.”

Software expert Basel Jassim believes it is better to use a special space network which allows the decoding of incoming and outgoing data from the activist’s computer. Skype is safe because its data are coded and it can be decoded only by the mother company. Facebook can be made secure via ssl, yet this technique is not certain following leaks which said that Syrian information network can save a copy of the ssl for the intelligence to use to hack activists’ accounts.”

Two Algerian journalists holding British passports were killed March 26 by the Syrian army, news reports and Syrian opposition sources said.

Syrian journalist activist, Milad Fadel, told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that two independent Algerian journalists, Nasim Entriri and Walid Blidi were shot dead by the Syrian army after they crossed the border with Turkey through a checkpoint near Azmareen village.

He said that their bodies were in custody of Syrian security forces in the municipality of Syrian Zarzur village, situated between Jesser Shugur city and Darkush locality fifteen kilometres away from Turkish border.

The journalists entered Syria to film a documentary on the revolution, reports said.

Syrian Human Rights Network said that the Syrian army captured and killed them after disfiguring their faces. It was not, however, possible to confirm the news from an independent source.

Syrian official news agency “SANA” quoted Syrian officials as saying that authorities were thwarting an infiltration attempt by “an armed terrorist group” from Turkey into the rural area of Idlib. Some members of the group, added the Syrian state news agency, were killed and others fled to Turkey.

No official Syrian source commented on the reports of the death of the two journalists.

SANA quoted earlier the Syrian Information Ministry warning  journalists not to try to infiltrate in Syrian territory with the company of what it called “terrorists.”

The ministry released a statement in which it said that it “followed the infiltration by some reporters of Arab and International news outlets inside Syria in breach of international law and regulations, together with some media institutions using the services of reporters inside Syria in an illegal manner and against the rules governing the accreditation of reporters.”

The statement underscored the ministry’s intention “to take the necessary measures against these people and institutions in line with the regulations.”

Yassin Bin Mansur, an Algerian journalist working with Qatari newspaper “Al-Arab”, blamed Syrian authorities for the death of the two journalists, saying that the killing came in the wake of an Alegrian newspaper running a series of pictures describing the heinous crimes committed by Syrian regimes against its own people.

The death of the two journalists brings the total number of foreign journalists killed in Syria since the start of the revolution to five.

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