Journalists in Northern Syria: Security Pressures Amplify Work Obstacles
Idlib – Shadia Taataa
Ali Dandoush, an activists and photographer working for Radio Fresh, has only miraculously survived an attempt at assassination, which stole the lives of the activists Raed Fares and Hamoud Junaid last November.
He survived; however, he is yet facing threats and dangers, relating to his safety.
For months, Northern Syria has been witnessing a state of concern among the journalists and the activists living there, which came as a response to a series of assaults, varying between arrests, kidnappings and assassinations, targeting them by some of the Syrian opposition’s armed groups, a thing that might affect reporting the suffering of civilians in this part of the country.
Ali Dandoush, a 21-year-old young man from the city of Kafr Nabl, southern rural Idlib, told Enab Baladi: “I have been working as a photographer for Radio Fresh and the Media Office of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) since 2013. Raed Fares was the one to encourage me to do this. He was not a mere manager at the foundation where I worked, but a father and a source of support.”
“The risks that I face in my field of work are many, including the pressure imposed by some of the armed groups and their meddling in our work. They have even reached the point of killing my fellow activists, while I am still receiving threats from fake numbers through WhatsApp,” he added.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is likely behind the assassination of activists Rad Fares and Hamoud Junaid in the city of Kafr Nabl, depending on evidence and information relating to the assassination incident, which it backed by the testimony of Ali Dandoush and several other eyewitnesses from the city.
Nonetheless, HTS-affiliated Ebaa Agency refuted the group’s having relation to the incident. Back then, the agency said that the incident resembles the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, adding that “it is a crime in a territory which aims at implicating those in control of it.”
Tightened Security Cripples Movement
The assassination of Fares and Junaid, which Ali Dandoush survived, marked the end of a year full of violations of the rights of the media field’s workers.
A report, published by the Syrian Network for Human Rights on January 4, stated that 2018 bore witness to the death of 24 media staffers, the injury of 28 and the kidnapping of 31 others by sides to the conflict in Syria.
The report indicated HTS responsibility for the kidnapping and arrest of three activists and journalists in Syria and pointed out that armed opposition groups, such as the Sultan Murad Division, have performed kidnappings of activists.
The media activist Fayez al-Dghaim, a former abductee, recounted to Enab Baladi the principal forms of harassment that media workers are being subjected to in Northern Syria, describing them as “myriad.”
Al-Dghaim, who was kidnapped for three months in 2016 by Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, said that the last of the harassments he has been subjected to happened last week, where his drone, the one he uses for filming, was shot at by an anonymous person, while he was shooting scenes of Ma`arat al-Nu`man city. The attack rendered the drone malfunction.
Al-Dghaim told Enab Baladi that he had the authorization needed for aerial filming, obtained from the Sharia Court in Ma`arat al-Nu`man. Despite this, he was prevented from filming, and his drone was sabotaged.
The activist, who has been practicing journalism for six years, believes that respect is yet lacking in Northern Syria for this profession, “through which journalists serve their countries.”
Female Activists Also Targeted
Based on the loss-gain criterion, the Syrian female journalists’ losses and sacrifices equal those of their male counterparts, taking into consideration the challenges they are facing at the levels of profession and society in the areas held by the opposition’s armed groups.
Even though accurate statistics of the numbers of female media activists and journalists working inside Syria are lacking, their presence is a reality. Their work has also become a necessity, the factor that enhanced their existence in the professional landscape, only to bump into the blocks of the security situation.
The media activist Riham Mohammad, 26-year-old, is one of the young women working on covering the happenings in rural Idlib, an act due to which she is encountering massive difficulties and obstacles.
“I cannot film at times, particularly when there are confrontations between the armed groups in the area, for I fear being investigated at the checkpoints or my own equipment getting confiscated,” Riham said, describing to Enab Baladi the sort of difficulties she is living with.
However, in return, Riham points out that she mostly finds no difficulty in obtaining information from the sources. Contrastingly, she is shown much respect for being a woman, while losing this privilege when it comes to interviewing political and military personalities, who either refuse to talk to her or refrain from providing her with information without conditions, as she put it.
Journalists Left Unprotected
Despite the increase in the number of activists and journalists in Northern Syria since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, a foundation or an entity so far has not been founded in support of media workers, or to ensure their safety in case they are subjected to kidnapping, threats or harassment.
The absence of such entities, nonetheless, relates to both security and logistic circumstances, not to the reluctance of the media sector’s workers. Still, a few experiments have emerged and failed as a result of several pressures.
Ahmad Assi, a media personality, narrated to Enab Baladi his experiment at establishing a unifying media body, which was a stillbirth. About this, he said: “In May 2017, a body consisting of more than 130 persons, including activists and reporters, who work inside Syria, was formed, an administrative board was elected and an ethical media charter was set up as to regulate the journalists’ work on the ground.”
“Our objective of forming this body was guaranteeing the rights of journalists in the liberated areas, in case they are subjected to kidnapping or arrest, and offering them [press] cards to help them practice their work naturally without getting exposed to harassment by a faction or a specific entity,” Assi said. However, these goals were not realized, and the body ended vanishing.
As for the reasons, Assi explained: “A rift between the associated journalists was created, and charges were directed at the body of affiliation with external sides by persons who have no interest in the body’s continuity.”
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