The Syrian Regime is still Killing Media Activists Despite the De-Escalation Agreement
SNHR has published its monthly report documenting the violations by the various parties to the conflict in Syria against media activists who play a prominent role in the civil movement and the armed conflict.
According to the report, media activism in Syria is continuously deteriorating as many international organizations are not paying enough attention to what is happening in Syria and the notable decline in media coverage over the last year compared with previous years.
The report notes that a journalist is a civilian according to the international humanitarian law regardless of his nationality. Any attack directed against a journalist is considered a war crime. However, when a media activist gets close to military targets, he is responsible for his own actions where targeting him in such case would be seen as collateral damage. Also, he would lose the right to protection if he was involved in military operations. The report also notes that media activists must be respected whether they have identification papers as media workers or don’t considering the many difficulties they encounter to acquire these papers.
Fadel Abd Al Ghany, chairman of SNHR, adds:
“Media activism is especially important because it often sheds light on a string of various crimes that are taking place on a daily basis. Therefore, we record the violations perpetrated by conflicting parties in our monthly reports on violations against media activists.”
The report highlights the de-escalation agreement in Syria, which commenced on May 6, 2017, after it was announced at the end of the fourth round of Astana talks which was held between representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran as the states that sponsored Ankara Ceasefire agreement. The agreement outlined four major de-escalation areas, where a cessation of combat operations will take place in these areas, humanitarian aids will be delivered, and IDPs residents will be allowed a return to these areas. These areas, as specified by the agreement, are: Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates), northern Homs governorate, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Daraa and al Quneitra governorates in the southern parts of Syria. It was provided that an expert committee would accurately assign the borders of said zones at a later date.
The report notes that since the agreement went into effect, these areas saw a relatively noticeable and good decrease in killing rates compared with the previous months since March 2011. Nonetheless, breaches didn’t stop, mainly by the Syrian regime, who is seemingly the party that would be most affected should the ceasefire go on, and in particular extrajudicial killing crimes and, more horrendously, deaths due to torture. This strongly asserts that there is a ceasefire of some sort on the table, but the crimes that the international community -especially the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian sponsors- won’t see are still going on as nothing has changed.
No drop in the rates of media activists killed by Syrian regime forces have been recorded following the commencement of the de-escalation agreement. Even more, Even more, these numbers exceeded in May what we have recorded in past months before the agreement, and was three times what was recorded in April.
According to SNHR’s methodology, a civilian journalist is anyone who plays a notable role in reporting and publishing news. He is not necessarily impartial as a journalist should be. In case a civilian journalist carried a weapon and was directly engaged in offensive military operations, he is no longer deemed a citizen journalist as long as he is involved in such operations.
This report draws upon SNHR’s archive and the investigations conducted by the Network in addition to accounts by victims’ families, information from local activists, and analyzing the pictures and video footages that we have been receiving amid security and logistic difficulties to access all the areas where violations take place. Therefore, it is worth noting that these statistics and incidents are only the bare minimum of the actual magnitude of crimes and violations that happened.
The report sheds light on the most notable violations against media activists that occurred in May 2017, where the report recorded the killing of three media activist by Syrian regime forces, and two by armed opposition factions.
According to the report, three media activists were arrested and released by Fateh al Sham Front (formerly al Nussra), in addition to one media activist who was arrested and released by armed opposition factions. Additionally, Kurdish Self-Management forces arrested one media activist.
The report emphasizes that serious and quick steps must be taken to save media activism in Syria and renews its condemnation of all violations against the freedom of media activism regardless of the perpetrators. The freedom of media must be respected and the workers in the media field must be protected and particularly considered.
The report calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to conduct investigations that focuses on the targeting of media activists given their vital role in recording incidents in Syria.
Also, the report calls on international and Arabic media institution to advocate their colleagues in the field of media by publishing periodic reports that shed light on their daily suffering and memorialize their sacrifice.