On World Press Freedom Day, We Demand the Release of 422 Citizen Journalists Detained in Syria, mostly by the Syrian Regime, and Now Also Threatened by COVID-19 Pandemic

707 Citizen Journalists Killed Since March 2011 to Date, 78% by Syrian Regime Forces

SNHR

Press release:
On the occasion of World Press Day, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report demanding the release of 422 citizen journalists in Syria, most of whom are detained by the Syrian regime, and are now threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report notes that 707 citizen journalists have been killed since March 2011 to date, 78% of them by Syrian Regime forces.
 
The 20-page report shows how the Syrian regime has been well aware of the danger posed by press freedom to its tyrannical rule for decades, abolishing all independent newspapers, and allowing only three official newspapers to be published, which are simply Syrian regime mouthpieces, dedicated to promoting, defending and justifying the regime’s actions. As the report further notes, it’s no exaggeration but simply a statement of fact to say that there is no such thing as a free press under the Syrian regime.
 
The report notes that the Syrian regime’s already strong hostility towards the concept of journalism and media freedom increased greatly after the outbreak of the popular uprising in March 2011, explaining that the emergence of the idea and importance of the “citizen journalist” came about due to the fact that the rate of violations rapidly grew and spread across various Syrian regions in parallel with the spread of the popular uprising demanding political change, with the regime forbidding external independent media from covering events on the ground, meaning citizen journalists were and are still largely the only ones doing so.
 
The report stresses that the violations against citizen journalists have not been limited to the Syrian regime although it is the main perpetrator, but extend to all parties to the conflict, most especially when journalists expose the violations of the de facto authorities.
 
The report emphasizes that the Syrian regime, which controls the Syrian state, bears the greatest responsibility for Syria’s horrendous status globally concerning press freedom and media work, and for the grotesque misrepresentation of Syria and the Syrian people. The report also notes that the Syrian regime is by far the largest perpetrator of violations against citizen journalists compared to all other parties to the conflict, although it adds that since Russian forces are also associated with and supportive of the Syrian regime’s violations, they bear joint responsibility, along with the Syrian regime, for 85% of the violations committed against citizen journalists.
 
The report further reveals that at least 707 citizen journalists, including seven children and six women (adult female), have been killed, as well as nine foreign journalists, and 52 others who died under torture, in addition to 1,563 other citizen journalists who were injured to various degrees, at the hands of all the main perpetrator parties to the conflict in Syria from March 2011 to May 2020.
 
The report distributes the total death toll according to the main parties to the conflict, with the Syrian regime being responsible for the deaths of 551 citizen journalists, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 47 other citizen journalists due to torture in detention centers, while Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of 22 citizen journalists, and ISIS killed 64, including one child, two women, three foreign journalists, and three under torture. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham also killed eight, including two who died due to torture. Factions of the Armed Opposition were responsible for the deaths of 25 citizen journalists, including one child and three women.
 
The report further reveals that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces killed four citizen journalists, while the US-led coalition forces killed one citizen journalist, and 32 were documented as being killed by other parties, including one foreign journalist killed at the hands of the Operation Peace Spring alliance forces (Turkish and Syrian National Army forces).
 
According to the report, there have been at least 1,169 arrests and kidnappings of citizen journalists at the hands of the main perpetrator parties in Syria between March 2011 and May 2020, of whom at least 422, including three women and 17 foreign journalists, are still detained or forcibly disappeared in detention centers as of May 2020. Of these, 353 citizen journalists, including two women and four foreign journalists are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, while another 48, including one woman and eight foreign journalists, who had been detained by ISIS, are still forcibly disappeared up until the publication of this report.
Meanwhile, 12 citizen journalists, including five foreign journalists are still detained or forcibly disappeared by factions of the Armed Opposition, while Syrian Democratic Forces are still detaining six citizen journalists, with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham still detaining or forcibly disappearing three citizen journalists.
 
The report outlines a mini survey with 64 citizen journalists, including five women, which reveals part of the burden on the citizen journalists in the Syrian conflict. The survey showed that 87% of those surveyed have worked as citizen journalists since the first months of the popular uprising, while 96% have no relevant academic qualification from a college, university or journalism institute. Meanwhile, 63% of respondents use a pseudonym, while 76% confirmed that they have been subjected to persecution and restrictions by the governing authorities in the areas where they work, and 54% have been arrested in connection with their work as citizen journalists. A total of 32% of respondents had found it necessary to delete or destroy their media materials for security reasons, while 30% had fled outside Syria to protect their safety. Finally, 68% of the survey respondents revealed that their work as citizen journalists is the source of part or all of their income.
 
The report emphasizes that the Syrian regime uses state media as a weapon of war, including movies & TV series, noting that Russian and Iranian media and the Lebanese Hezbollah group have also replicated the Syrian regime’s accounts of events and repeated its statements, justifying all its crimes, as well as denying all of the crimes committed by the Russian and Iranian forces and Hezbollah in Syria, failing to mention any of them as though they had not happened at all.
 
The report expresses serious concern over the fate of 353 citizen journalists who are still detained by the Syrian regime, amid a strong possibility of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is particularly alarming given the fact that the detention conditions are unimaginably dire.
 
The report outlines international laws governing the rights of citizen journalists, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, and the United Nations General Assembly resolution, as well as United Nations Security Council Resolution no. 2222, in which it condemned all violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict.
 
The report notes that despite the decline in the area of Syria witnessing combat operations during the past year, and many citizen journalists withdrawing from media work due to restrictions or emigration, Syria remains one of the deadliest countries for journalists globally, ranking first in the world in terms of the number of citizen journalists killed in 2019 according to a report issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists on December 17, 2019. Syria also ranked as 174th out of 180 countries for the second consecutive year according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
 
In conclusion, the report calls on the UN Security Council to issue a resolution demanding the immediate release of all citizen journalists, by all parties, particularly the Syrian regime, which is detaining the vast majority of them. The report also made a set of recommendations to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, and Arab and international media institutions, and calls on that the Syrian regime and all the dominant powers to immediately release all citizen journalists, and to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared ones
 

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