Monday, August 20, 2012

Report on Syrian Issue - Journalists

- 20th August (afternoon)

Attacks on Journalists

The murder of journalists in Syria is becoming increasingly worrying. Since the beginning of this year, 32 journalists have lost their lives in Syria according to the International Press Institute’s Death Watch. The latest incidents were the murders of two Syrian journalists in Damascus, Ali Abbas and Bara’a Yusuf al-Bushi, which occurred on Saturday the 11th of August. Ali Abbas was killed at his home, with a SANA report blaming an “armed terrorist group” for killing their reporter, in reality meaning opposition members did it. 

The funeral of Ali Abbas
Indeed, there have been a number of attacks on pro-government media by Syrian opposition groups. Reporters Without Borders recently expressed grave concern at the disappearance of a pro-government TV crew working for Al-Ikhbariya. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the journalists had been kidnapped by a rebel faction.  

Attacks on any non-combatant are disgraceful and should always be condemned, and journalists and their support teams are rightly protected by the international community under Resolution 1738 of the UN Security Council. However, what is worrying is the extent to which attacks on pro-government journalists are underplayed in Western discussions of the opposition. The problem is that in the West, we are often slow to criticise countries or groups that we support if they are fighting a country or group that we do not.

Fortunately, there are organisations that aim to be objective and protect journalists, whomever they might be reporting for.  Reporters Without Borders has recently sent an open letter Free Syrian Army commander Riyad Al Asaad and Syrian National Council president Abdel Basset Sayda asking that they try and stop the attacks on journalists and on the ground news crews:

“Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to share with you its deep concern about the growing number of acts of violence against Syrian journalists, including government and pro-government journalists.”

“The employees of Syria’s pro-government media are becoming the targets of abduction and murder with increasing frequency.”

“The Islamist group Al-Nosra announced on 3 August that it had executed Mohammad Al Saeed, a TV presenter who was kidnapped from his home in mid-July. Syrian government TV cameraman Talal Janbakeli was kidnapped in Damascus on 5 August by the Free Syrian Army’s Haroun Al-Rasheed militia. A crew working for Al-Ikhbariya, a privately-owned pro-government TV station, was captured by another FSA unit on 10 August.”

“The FSA and other components of the opposition must immediately and unconditionally release the journalists and media workers they are holding, including the Al-Ikhbariya crew members captured on 10 August.” 

“...such behaviour is not only a violation of human rights and your international responsibilities but is also counter-productive, as it can only damage the Syrian opposition’s image in the eyes of the public and its international supporters.”

If the rebels inside Syria are to be seen as valid candidates to rule the country they must make clear that they do not tolerate the violation of human rights and support freedom of speech. No matter how much one disagrees with an opinion, everyone has the right to express what they believe. Attacks on journalists should stop immediately, and fundamentalist Islamic groups who have a history of abuses should be disowned by the mainstream internal opposition.

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