711 Journalists and Media Workers Have Been Killed Since March 2011, Including 52 Due to Torture, by the Parties to the Conflict and Controlling Forces
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has issued its annual report on the most notable violations against media workers in Syria to mark the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, revealing that it documented the deaths of 711 journalists and media workers in Syria since March 2011, including 52 due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces, noting that violations against citizen journalists and freedom of opinion and expression have continued since the outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria nearly 11 years ago.
The 29-page report notes that Syria is among the worst countries worldwide in the freedom of press, opinion and expression, adding that throughout the era of the despotic rule of Hafez al Assad and his son Bashar al Assad, Syria has never witnessed freedom in journalistic or media work, since al Ba’ath Party seized power over the country in March 1963, banning all independent media, with the state retaining only those media mouthpieces speaking on the regime’s behalf.
The report goes into some detail about the Syrian regime’s crackdown on the freedom of press, opinion and expression following the outbreak of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in March 2011, when the regime further increased its repression of journalists and media workers, expelling and completely banning all independent Arab and international media that had been allowed a presence in Syria. This complete ban on media freedom has continued for 11 years to date.
In order to fill this huge void and to provide credible coverage of the historical events taking place in Syria, activists took up this journalistic mission, with the idea of a citizen journalist emerging in the country as these activists assumed responsibility for reporting, filming and photographing news, at great danger to themselves. As the report notes, the perpetrators of violations against journalists and media workers have not been limited to the Syrian regime although it is the main perpetrator, but extend to all parties to the conflict and controlling forces, most especially when engaged in exposing the violations perpetrated by the de facto authorities. In general, all these parties have practiced a policy of silencing voices, and as a result of these eleven years of accumulated and compound violations, Syria has become one of the worst countries in the world in terms of freedom of the press and of opinion and expression, according to the violations perpetrated against them.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), says:
“The Syrian regime rules Syria with an iron fist, banning all political parties, along with prohibiting the establishment of opposition or even independent media. There will be no freedom of the press, opinion, or expression as long as dictatorship and tyranny remain. Meanwhile, the areas outside the Syrian regime’s control have provided no democratic model that respects freedom of the press, opinion, and expression.”
This report outlines the record of the most notable violations against journalists and media workers in Syria from March 2011 to May 2022, and highlights the most notable violations documented by SNHR since World Press Freedom Day in the past year (from May 2021 to May 2022), as well as including the most notable violations that occurred during the same period. The report adds that since the outbreak of the popular uprising, the various parties to the conflict have engaged in practices that violate the freedom of the press, opinion and expression.
The report emphasizes that the Syrian regime, which controls the Syrian state, bears the greatest responsibility for Syria’s horrendous status globally concerning press freedom and media work, and for the grotesque misrepresentation of Syria and the Syrian people. The types of violations committed by the Syrian regime against journalists and media workers are wide-ranging and various, as the regime continues to generally prohibit all independent media, and to exert absolute control over state media. The regime restricts freedom of opinion and expression for media workers and citizens based on laws (issued via decrees, or through the People’s Assembly, which is itself subject to absolute regime control) that expressly oppose international human rights law and wholly obstruct freedom of opinion and expression. The report also sheds light on Law No. 20 of 2022 issued by the Syrian regime in April, stressing that what the law stipulates is a consolidation of the Syrian regime’s policy of restricting freedom of opinion and expression, and an expansion of the broad accusations fabricated and invoked by the regime since March 2011 to legitimize its brutality, mass arrests and other crimes it has perpetrated and to give a free hand to its security forces.
The report documents the deaths of 711 journalists and media workers at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and May 2022, including seven children and six women (adult female), as well as nine foreign journalists, and 52 others who died as a result of torture, in addition to at least 1,563 journalists and media workers who have been injured to varying degrees, with the Syrian regime being responsible for the deaths of 552 journalists and media workers, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 47 other citizen journalists due to torture in detention centers, while Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of 24 journalists and media workers. This means that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally are responsible for approximately 82% of the death toll of journalists and media workers, and the Syrian regime is responsible for approximately 91% of the death toll due to torture in the regime’s official and unofficial detention centers.
The report also documents that ISIS killed 64 journalists and media workers, including one child, two women, three foreign journalists, and three under torture. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham also killed eight, including two who died due to torture.
The report further reveals that all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army were responsible for the deaths of 25 journalists and media workers, including one child and three women, while Syrian Democratic Forces killed four journalists and media workers, the US-led Coalition forces killed one journalist/ media worker, and 33 were documented as being killed by other parties, including one foreign journalist.
The report provides charts that show the distribution of the death toll of journalists and media workers by parties to the conflict and the controlling forces, by year and across Syria’s governorates since 2011; the accumulative linear graph of the death toll shows that 2013 was the bloodiest year to date in Syria since 2011 for journalists and media workers (during which approximately 25% of the journalists and media workers documented as having died were killed), followed by 2012 (18%), and 2014 (16%), while Aleppo governorate saw the largest death toll among journalists and media workers, approximately 22%, followed by Daraa governorate with 17%, then Damascus Suburbs governorate with 16%.
In terms of arbitrary arrests/detention and enforced disappearances, the report documents at least 1,250 cases of arrests and kidnappings of journalists and media workers at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria since March 2011, of whom at least 443, including six women and 17 foreign journalists, are still detained or forcibly disappeared in detention centers as of May 2022. Of these, 368 journalists and media workers, including five women and four foreign journalists are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian regime forces, accounting for approximately 83% of the journalists and media workers still detained or forcibly disappeared. Meanwhile, another 48 journalists and media workers, including one woman and eight foreign journalists, who were arrested and subsequently forcibly disappeared by ISIS are still unaccounted for, while eight remain detained or forcibly disappeared by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, 12, including five foreign journalists, by all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army, and seven by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The analysis of data shows that the largest proportion of journalists and media workers who are still detained or forcibly disappeared were originally arrested in Aleppo governorate (approximately 14% of the documented total), followed by Deir Ez-Zour governorate (approximately 12%), then Damascus (approximately 10%).
The report lists the most notable violations against journalists and media workers from May 2021 to May 2022, noting that one media worker was killed by Russian forces during this period. The report documents at least 39 arrests and kidnappings of journalists and media workers by the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria during the same period, 13 of these at the hands of Syrian regime forces, including three women, while 11 were at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, three were at the hands of all Armed Opposition factions/Syrian National Army, and 12 by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report concludes that all the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces have violated many of the rules and laws of international human rights law in the areas they control, especially those related to freedom of opinion and expression, such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These parties have also violated many rules and articles of international humanitarian law, foremost among which is Rule 34 of customary law, which requires that civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council and International Community should make clear efforts to end the conflict in Syria through a political process that advances Syria from being a totalitarian state to a stable, democratic and civilized state that respects press freedom, denounce the violations practiced by the parties to the conflict against journalists, and support press institutions operating on Syrian territory in order to continue their work in reporting facts and events.
The report calls on all the parties to the conflict/controlling forces to immediately release journalists and media workers who have been arbitrarily detained, to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared, and to repeal all ‘security laws’ which absolutely suppress and deny freedom of opinion and expression, especially those issued by the Syrian regime.
The report additionally provides a number of other recommendations.