The Syrian Regime Trumps all other Parties in Killing Media Activists
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.
Also, the report briefs that the American and Russian presidents, following an extensive round of talks between Russia, USA, and Jordan that commenced in May 2017 in Amman, Jordan’s capital, announced that a ceasefire agreement has been reached in southwestern Syria – Daraa, Quneitra, and Suwayda governorates on the sidelines of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg. The agreement went into force at 12:00 on Sunday July 9, 2017, and provided for the passage of humanitarian aids in addition to a ceasefire between the conflicting parties (Syrian regime forces and their allies on one side, and armed opposition factions on the other side). Also, the agreement specifies that maintaining security in this region is the Russian forces’ responsibility in coordination with the Americans and Jordanians.
Then, the report talks about other local agreements that have been struck, such as Eastern Ghouta between armed opposition factions in Eastern Ghouta and officials from the Russian side, and a similar agreement in northern suburbs of Homs governorate. However, the texts of these agreements haven’t been made public on Russian government’s websites, and the same for armed opposition factions who didn’t publicize these agreements, except for Failaq al Rahman who published the text of the agreement on their official website. At the end of the agreement, according to the copy on Failaq al Rahman’s website, a signature by a Russian sponsor was shown but without an explicit name. This helps, the report notes, the sponsoring Russian side to easily dissolve from these agreements with no subsequent political or legal obligations and repercussions.
A de-escalation agreement was signed, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, in Egypt’s capital Cairo on Saturday, July 22, 2017, in Eastern Ghouta following a round of talks between Russian military officials and factions from the armed opposition that took place in Egypt’s capital Cairo. The agreement was to come into effect at 12:00 of the same day, while Failq al Rahman joined the agreement after a representative from the faction signed the agreement with a Russian government representative in Geneva city on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, as the agreement established Failaq al Rahman’s and their areas’ inclusion in the agreement, where it was to come into effect at 21:00 of Friday, August 18, 2017.
The report also sheds light on northern suburbs of Homs and southern suburbs of Hama de-escalation agreement which was signed in Cairo on Monday, July 31, 2017 following a round of talks between armed opposition factions in the area and the Syrian regime represented by the Russian government a sponsoring party, as the agreement was to commence at 12:00 on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Most notably, the agreements provided for a full cessation of hostilities between the conflicting parties in the relevant areas -with the exclusion of the areas in which ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham are present- and for humanitarian aids to enter these areas and for detainees to be released as per the demands of each party as to which detainees are to be released.
The report notes that the included areas saw have seen a relatively good drop in the rates of killing since the agreements’ commencement in relation to the past 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, as rates of deaths due to torture didn’t see any changes from the month prior to the commencement of the agreement. 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 had changed.
The report adds that with the end of the sixth round of talks in the Kazakhstani capital, Astana, which were held over the course of two days (September 14-15, 2017), a de-escalation zone was established in Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas, as military forces were to be deployed (Russian, Turkish, and Iranian) to monitor the agreement, with the passage of humanitarian aids. However, on September 19, Syrian-Russian alliance started a heavy offensive against Idlib governorate in response to Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s “Ya Ebadallah Uthbotou” battle. Supported by some opposition faction (The Islamic Turkistani Party, Jaish al Izza, and Jaish al Nukhba), Hay’at Tahrir al Sham started this battle in northeastern Hama governorate. Subsequently, Syrian-Russian alliance expanded the offensive to include the suburbs of Aleppo and Hama governorates and Eastern Ghouta in Damascus suburbs.
The report records that in In September, SNHR recorded that Syrian regime forces have resumed killing media activists as a policy, after a two-month stall, as Syrian regime forces topped all other parties by killing two media activists, while Russian forces returned to killing media activists after five months, where one media activist was killed by Russian forces in Idlib governorate. Hay’at Taharir al Sham, on the other hand, continues its policies of oppressing and arresting media activists in their areas of control for the third month in a row. Furthermore, we recorded an unprecedented rise in 2017 in the toll of media activists who were arrested by Self-Management forces.
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 bore arms and was directly engaged in offensive military operations, he is no longer deemed a citizen journalist as long as he is engaged in military activities.
The report includes five accounts, and implements a high-level documentation methodology adopted by SNHR based on direct accounts from survivors, victims’ families, and local media activists. Additionally, SNHR team has analyzed and verified the pictures and videos and some of the medical records SNHR received. The report notes that SNHR has copies of all the pictures and videos this report contains in a secret online database, as well as backup copies on hard drives. Nonetheless, the report stresses that SNHR team encounters serious and exceptional security and logistic challenges in light of the pursuit and ban by Syrian regime forces and some of the other armed groups, so it is always important to note that all of these figures and incidents only represent the bare minimum of the severity and magnitude of the violations that occurred.
The report records that 36 media activists were killed at the hands of the parties to the conflict in Syria between the start of 2017 and October of the same year. The report also outlines the most notable violations against media activists in September 2017, as the report records that two media activists were killed by Syrian regime forces, one was killed by Russian forces, and one by armed opposition factions.
Additionally, the report documents four cases of arrest at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, where the detained media activists were released later, four cases of arrest at the hands of Self-Management forces, where two of the detained media activists were released later, and one abduction case at the hands of other parties. In addition, the report records that armed opposition factions released one media activist.
The report notes that one media activist was injured in Russian bombardments.
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.
Finally, the report calls on the sponsoring Russian side to stop the Syrian regime from dooming all de-escalation agreements, and start making progress in the detainees issue by revealing the fates of 76,000 forcibly-disappeared persons.