Syria’s journalists reside in fixed fear of arrest, assassination

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Jan 14, 2021

IDLIB, Syria — Masked gunmen shot photojournalist Hussein Khattab in broad daylight Dec. 12, in Syria’s northern metropolis of al-Bab, which is managed by the Turkish-backed opposition.

Though dozens of opposition factions are current within the space, nobody was capable of cease or determine the perpetrators. Khattab was shot 5 occasions whereas filming a report on the unfold of COVID-19 in northern Syria.

Following Khattab’s assassination, Syrian journalists and activists turned to social media, calling for the safety of journalists, particularly within the areas managed by the Turkish-backed factions. Dozens of Syrian journalists inside Syria joined in, posting the Arabic hashtag #Martyr_Hussein_Khattab.

Days later, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which controls many of the northwestern province of Idlib, arrested journalist Abdul Fattah al-Hussein at a checkpoint on Dec. 22, then launched him on Dec. 30. After his launch, HTS mentioned that Hussein was arrested as a result of his title had been talked about in a safety case, giving no extra element.

On Jan. 6, journalist Bahaa al-Halabi survived an assassination try within the metropolis of al-Bab. Unknown assailants fired 15 photographs at him. He was wounded and narrowly escaped loss of life.

In May, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the killing of 707 journalists because the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, noting that Syria is taken into account one of many world’s most harmful nations for journalists, with the best loss of life toll amongst journalists in 2019.

Reporter Ibrahim al-Khateb, who resides in Idlib, informed Al-Monitor, “When a journalist is arrested, the authorities at all times declare that the arrest has nothing to do with journalism. Journalists face ongoing risks posed by cells affiliated with the Syrian regime and the Islamic State in opposition-controlled areas. Journalists do not need a secure atmosphere to follow their work, comparable to acquiring data from dependable sources, and they’re unable to hold out investigative work.”

He went on, “In basic, our work situations in Idlib are higher than those in areas managed by pro-Turkish factions. Despite all of the cons, Idlib is healthier, by way of safety.”

Ismail al-Rej, a journalist living within the Aleppo countryside, informed Al-Monitor, “Journalists are subject to a lot of harassment. We cannot even obtain a permit from the controlling authorities to work. We suffer arbitrary detention and assassinations. Although there are areas that are better than others when it comes to security for journalists, all media professionals live in fear because we have not learned the identity of those who have assassinated some of us. There is no security in opposition-held areas and there are several parties that have an interest in assassinating media professionals.”

Syrian journalist Qutayba Yassin, who lives in Istanbul, informed Al-Monitor, “HTS arrests journalists as a result of its insurance policies are based mostly on exclusion.” They are free to arrest journalists as a result of they don’t have a corporation or union representing them, he defined.

He defined, “We often succeed in pressuring these factions and manage to protect the arrested journalists, and the factions often come out with statements justifying the arrests. There are no real differences between HTS and the Free Syrian Army factions, but attacks by unknown individuals are less in Idlib compared to other areas.”

Yassin added, “The future of journalistic work in the opposition-held areas is not bright. Journalists have started to emigrate. Many of them have submitted [asylum] applications to European countries and others are planning to follow suit. The environment in opposition-controlled areas is not safe for journalists and their families. If the officials continue to ignore this matter and fail to put in place laws and plans to protect them, we will unfortunately be left with no media professionals reporting the suffering of Syrians.”

Taqi al-Din Omar, an official in HTS’ media relations workplace, informed Al-Monitor, “Freedom of the press in the Idlib area is a guaranteed right for all journalists, outlets and activists. This can be seen in the number of media organizations present in the area and the thoroughness of their work. We welcome all media outlets and professionals who wish to convey the suffering of our people and document the war crimes caused by Russia and the Syrian regime. Idlib is the best area in all of Syria in terms of freedom of the press. One of the most important principles of the revolution is the freedom of expression.”

Speaking about HTS’ arrests of journalists, he mentioned, “Security is essential to ensure justice and the continuation of life. Sometimes personal allegations are raised or certain names are mentioned in criminal cases and others, and the procedures of these cases are carried out like other cases known to the general public without discrimination. A journalist may be referred to the judiciary, but no one has ever tried to silence anyone for criticizing anything; this is what distinguishes the Idlib area from others.”

He added, “Over 500 international press delegations entered the Idlib area in 2020, completed their journalistic mission and returned to their countries.”

Omar famous that the HTS-backed Syrian Salvation Government’s media directorate in Idlib points press permits to facilitate the work of journalists, mentioning that a media constitution and regulation assure press freedom.

But an activist living in an space managed by the Turkish-backed factions informed Al-Monitor on situation of anonymity, “All factions are tightening their grip around journalists and there is no freedom and security for them. Their lives are threatened and they live in constant fear, especially in the areas of the pro-Turkish factions since Turkey does not intervene to protect media professionals.”

He added, “In terms of security, HTS-controlled Idlib is better, but it carries out random arrests without trials, and this is also a violation. Despite living in more comfortable conditions, journalists are still under the control of HTS.”