SNHR has published its monthly report documenting the violations by the 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.”
On December 30, 2016, a comprehensive ceasefire was announced from the Turkish capital Ankara under a Russian-Turkish sponsorship. The signing parties, the Syrian regime on one side and armed opposition factions on the other side, agreed to cease all armed attacks, including airstrikes, and stop raids and on-the-ground advancements. The military areas controlled by ISIS (self-proclaimed the Islamic State) were excluded from the agreement.
Ankara Ceasefire Agreement was followed by seven rounds of talks that were held in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, between Russian, Turkish, and Iranian representatives as the states who sponsored Ankara Ceasefire Agreement. These rounds -the most recent of which was on October 30-31, 2017- discussed mostly, in parallel with a number of local agreements, ways to further establish de-escalation zones in Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates), northern Homs governorate, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Daraa and Quneitra governorates in south Syria. Additionally, the talks addressed ways to deliver humanitarian aids and enable IDPs to return to those areas.
Since these agreements went into effect, the included areas saw a relatively good and noticeable drop in killing rates in relation to the past months since March 2011.
The report notes that breaches didn’t stop despite Ankara Ceasefire Agreement and the de-escalation agreements that followed – 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 guarantors- won’t see are still going on as nothing had changed. Accordingly, the report calls on the Russian guarantor should respect the agreements they struck and apply serious pressure on their Syrian and Iranian allies in order to cease all forms of killing, shelling, and torture-to-death inside detention centers, and start releasing detainees.
The report notes that November recorded an unprecedented drop in the overall toll of violations against media activists since last June. November saw one incident of killing at the hands of Syrian regime 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 nine 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 40 media activists were killed at the hands of the parties to the conflict in Syria between the start of 2017 and December of the same year. The report also outlines the most notable violations against media activists in November 2017, as the report records that one media activists was killed by Syrian regime forces.
Additionally, the report documents one case of arrest by armed opposition factions, where the arrested media activist was released later, while the report records two releases and one case of arrest by Kurdish Self-Management forces, where the arrested media activist was released later.
The report notes that seven media activists were injured, including six by Syrian regime forces, while the Russian bombardment injured 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.
Finally, the report calls on the Russian guarantor 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.