Syria is now the world’s most dangerous country for news providers. Hundreds of journalists, citizen-journalists and media assistants have been killed, arbitrarily arrested, detained, abducted, subjected to enforced disappearance and tortured by the various parties to the conflict since the start of the uprising three years ago.
The victims were targeted for covering the situation in Syria, including human rights abuses.
On World Press Freedom Day, the NGOs signing this statement – participants in the Free Syrian Voices campaign– urge all parties to stop harassing and persecuting news providers and to immediately release all who are arbitrarily detained or held hostage.
News providers have been systematically exposed to retaliation by governmental security forces and pro-government militias since the start of the uprising. At the same time, non-state armed groups, including jihadists, have increasingly targeted both Syrian and foreign journalists since mid-2012, while paramilitary groups linked to the Kurdish political party PYD have stepped up their harassment of Syrian news providers in the northeastern Hasakeh region, which they control.
More than 150 news providers have been killed in the course of their work since March 2011. Nine foreign journalists and more than 20 Syrian news providers are currently held hostage or are missing in Syria, while around 40 Syrian journalists and citizen-journalists are held by the government.
Where are Ali Mahmoud Othman and Mohamed Nour al-Shemali, citizen-journalists arrested by the Syrian authorities in March and December 2012 respectively? Where is Obeida Batal, a reporter abducted by members of an armed group in July 2013? Will the Anti-Terrorism Court convict the journalist Mazen Darwish and his two colleagues, Hussein Ghrer and Hani al-Zaitani, on charges of “promoting terrorist activities”?
Journalists are protected as civilians under international humanitarian law. UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists in conflict situations, adopted in December 2006, condemns attacks on journalists in armed conflicts. The UN General Assembly resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, adopted in November 2013, “condemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.” It also urges “member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers (…) and to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.”
Despite these international resolutions, journalists continue to face serious dangers in Syria, paying a high price for doing their job. And they continue to be subjected to abuses with total impunity. At least seven journalists and nine Syrian news providers have been killed since January 2014.