Allegations of harassment and infidelity and other charges against media workers in Syria’s Idlib
Enab Baladi – Yousef Ghuraibi
“Under a fallacious pretext, we were severely beaten; some of our equipment was destroyed by elements affiliated with Hay’ at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). This pretext is actually the most prominent one amid the absence of other excuses,” this is how the media activist Moaz al-Abbas described to Enab Baladi the incident that took place on 10 June.
Beating, insulting, degrading, arresting, and killing, all these are but pretexts which aggravate the difficulties faced by media professionals in Idlib, where the charges driven for by military and political propaganda occupy an essential place in the public space.
Media professionals described as “harasser and infidel”
“Security personnel affiliated with the HTS beat us while we were covering the passage of the joint Russian-Turkish patrols on the M4 international highway. And some inflicted verbal abuse upon me, saying, “You swine,” and “You infidel,” with these words, the photojournalist Abdul Wajid Sattifi described what happened to him, al-Abbas, and other media professionals on his Facebook account on 10 June.
Al-Abbas said the argument held by the “HTS” elements is that “the media professionals photographed the women who came to hit the patrol with stones without their consent.” Therefore, the HTS elements resorted to beat the media professionals and smash their equipment immediately.
The incident drew condemnation and denunciation from all activists in Idlib, and the communication director at the HTS, Taqi al-Din Omar, in an email to Enab Baladi pointed out that the narration of photographing women without their consent does not justify what happened. Therefore, the case was referred to the judicial authorities for examination.
Such as an incident has happened before, al-Abbas added, as all factions are heading to intensify crackdowns on media professionals. Al-Abbas was subjected to beatings and humiliation by the members of the Sham Legion in 2019 amid a popular demonstration on the international highway “M5” because he harshly criticized one of the medical institutions on social media sites. Besides, he was threatened with a greater punishment if he talked about his injury.
Al-Abbas believes that what is happening to the media professionals in Syria is just as a reflection of the policy of the military factions on the ground, which considers everyone who does not agree with them as an “enemy.”
According to al-Abbas, the solution to these cases should be based on firm decisions issued by the factions. The case of each media professional is to be referred to the factions’ media offices to respond, without resorting to “repression, beating and cracking” by their elements.
Media professionals described as “terrorists and traitors”
Since the eruption of the peaceful protest movement in Syria, the Syrian regime has considered the media work one of the most severe threats, according to the journalist Omar Haj Ahmad.
Haj Ahmad reinforced his opinion highlighting that the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad released a statement in June 2011 in the presence of a delegation from the city of Jobar in Eastern Ghouta, saying “I do not blame those who are demonstrating, but rather admonish those who photograph and send videos.”
According to a report released by “the Syrian Network for Human rights,” nearly 707 journalists were killed between March 2011 and May 2019, 78 percent of the journalists were killed by the Syrian regime forces, 422 journalists are still held in the detention center of al-Assad, and convicted on a variety of charges such as “terrorism” and “betrayal.”
Haj Ahmad told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime has used all its power to impose restrictions on the media professionals and workers, such as security prosecution, detention, killing, and even mutilation. The Syrian regime charged those arrested with crimes more dangerous than the crime of the person who carried firearms in their faces.
Haj Ahmad added, “Freedom of opinion and expression is forbidden by the Syrian regime and by every authoritarian regime, and that is why they fear most of those who speak and convey the suffering of people.”
Media professionals described as mercenary little gold-diggers
The mission of media professionals is not restricted only to reporting facts about repression, killing, and bombing, but also includes conveying the human suffering inflicted by the years of war and displacement. In fact, this mission is not easy at all. This mission is “the mission of challenges.”
The photojournalist, Aref Wated told Enab Baladi that when photographers and journalists go to the camps in order t report news, the residents establish different views about them. Some people see the media professionals as “sellers of photos” or “mercenaries who only care about gaining US dollars,” and other people do not differentiate between journalists and humanitarian workers. In contrast, others appreciate the real effort of journalists and the role of media.
Wated added that photographers go to the camps to shed light on a problem. They first introduce themselves and their goals to the residents of the camps, but not everyone responds.
He pointed out that there is a real problem, which is that the residents of camps do not differentiate between organizations and the press. For instance, if they previously dealt with an organization that made them promises and took their pictures without fulfilling their obligations, they could refuse to cooperate with the press that tries to shed light on their suffering.
Even in the cities, people believe that media professionals are “mercenary little gold-diggers,” taking into account that everyone working in the media field is considered wealthy, for receiving many US dollars.
Yet, many media professionals and activists have been working for years for the interest of the Syrian revolution without obtaining significant amounts of financial returns, according to Wated.
Media professionals operate amid the absence of an organization that brings them together.
The media professionals in Idlib have neither a clear definition nor a union, as the launch of the press work was the result of widespread protests that challenged the government repression.
After many failed attempts to establish a media organization, northwestern Syria, which has become the last bastion of the opposition, does not have one, according to journalist Omar Haj Ahmad.
Organizing the work of media professionals and taking care of their affairs like documenting violations, supervising labor contracts, and controlling exploitation, or resolving disputes among media workers, or between the media workers and their institutions, and between institutions and entities affiliated with the revolution, are the tasks of that missing union, according to Haj Ahmad’s opinion.
He pointed out that the military escalation, the large number of media professionals in the region, the multiplicity of the authorities ruling Idlib, and the restrictions imposed by them on media work, prevented the launch of such a project, which is necessary in light of the violations and abuses against the media professionals that occur on a daily basis.
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