A Total of 715 Journalists and Media Workers Killed in Syria Since March 2011, Including 52 Who Died due to Torture, at the Hands of the Parties to the Conflict and Controlling Forces
Press release: (Download the full report below)
The Hague – Marking World Press Freedom, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its annual report on the most notable violations against media workers. In the new report, SNHR reveals that it has documented the killing of 715 journalists and media workers at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011, including 52 journalists who died due to torture, stressing that violations against journalists and media workers have been going on continuously ever since the first days of the popular uprising in Syria 12 years ago.
The 25-page report notes that the Syrian regime has ruled the country with an iron fist for half a century since the reign of Hafez Assad. This totalitarian rule barely changed when Bashar, following in his father’s footsteps, became president with the ruling dynasty’s ruthless oppression continuing to this day. In fact, in the past 60 years, Syria has never experienced freedom of the press and media since the Baath party seized power in March 1963. Even before Hafez Assad took over absolute control, the Baathist regime made its intentions known by banning all the existing independent newspapers, allowing only the existence of newspapers that served as regime mouthpieces. As the report notes, as long as dictatorship and despotism continue to exist in Syria, the country will never enjoy freedom of press, opinion, and expression, adding that the only way to change this terrible reality in which fundamental freedoms are denied and absolutely crushed is to bring about a political transition to democracy in Syria, which has been the people’s fundamental demand since the popular uprising first began in March 2011.
The report expands further on the reality of freedom of press, opinion, and expression since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011. The regime, the report stresses, notably further intensified its existing oppression of journalists and media workers following the start of the popular uprising in Syria, in March 2011. Indeed, the regime didn’t only crush domestic press freedom, but even expelled all the Arabic and international media outlets that had been operating in Syria. This ban, which has now been in place for 12 years, created a glaring chasm in media coverage, with the great and noble journalistic duty of reporting the reality of the historical events transpiring in the country falling, as a result, on the shoulders of activists, giving rise to what became known as “citizen journalists”, who have risked their lives to document and report news events. As the report further explains, while the Syrian regime was and still is the main party responsible for the crimes against journalists and media workers, it is not the only party perpetrating them, with all parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria having been guilty of such violations, especially against the journalists and media workers exposing the acts of the de facto authorities that emerged in Syria. Sadly, all parties to the conflict have resorted to policies of silencing dissent, and, thus Syria has become one of the world’s worst countries in terms of press freedom in light of 12 years of compounded and accumulated violations against the media sector.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, executive director of SNHR, says:
“On World Press Freedom Day, we acknowledge and remember the sacrifices of hundreds of Syrian journalists and Syrian media activists, particularly since the start of the popular uprising in March 2011, since when they’ve been specifically targeted. These brave journalists are still awaiting justice and accountability for the perpetrators of violations in Syria, most importantly the Syrian regime because dictatorship and despotism are the stark opposite of press freedom. As long as the current Syrian regime remains in power, Syria will never have any genuine form of freedom of the press.”
The report summarizes the most notable violations suffered by journalists and media workers between March 2011 and May 2023, with particular focus on those documented in the last year (May 2022-May 2023), including the most noteworthy incidents recorded in this period. The report further notes that, since the beginning of the popular uprising, the various parties to the conflict have unapologetically carried out practices that violate the freedom of press, opinion, and expression.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime, which controls the Syrian state, bears the primary responsibility for Syria’s disastrous rankings worldwide in terms of freedom of press and media work, and, through this, for defaming the image of Syria and Syrians. Indeed, the Syrian regime is the primary perpetrator of violations against journalists and media workers, vastly surpassing the other parties to the conflict individually or collectively. Meanwhile, Russia is, in practice, a supporter and backer of the Syrian regime’s violations, which necessarily entails that it bears joint responsibility with the Syrian regime for 85 percent of all violations against journalist and media workers in Syria. The types of violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime against journalists and media workers are varied. The regime still maintains its ban on all independent media outlets, imposing full and absolute control over state media, and quashing any freedom of opinion and expression for media workers and citizens through restrictive laws and decrees (or the People’s Assembly of Syria, which is also completely subservient to the regime) that explicitly violate international human rights law, and alarmingly limit the freedom of the press, opinion, and expression. The most recent legislation passed by the regime that imposes further restrictions on the freedom of press, opinion, and expression is Law No. 20 of 2022 regarding cybercrime, which was passed by the head of the Syrian regime Bashar Assad in April 2022. The new law contains vague articles with no clear definitions, and violates the right to freedom of the press, opinion, and expression, threatening digital rights and online privacy. Overall, the Cybercrime Law is simply a perpetuation of the Syrian regime’s policies of restricting freedom of opinion and expression by expanding the scope of the vague and broad charges devised and used by the Syrian regime as a pretext since March 2011 to legitimize the widespread arrests and give further power to the members of its security agencies.
The report documents the killing of 715 journalists and media workers, including seven children and six women (adult females), as well as nine foreign journalists and 52 journalists who died due to torture, and the injury of no fewer than 1,603 others at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and May 2023. Of the 715, the Syrian regime was responsible for the killing of 553 journalists, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 47 journalists who died due to torture, while 24 journalists were killed at the hands of Russian forces. In other words, the Syrian regime and its ally Russia are responsible for approximately 81 percent of all deaths among journalists and media workers since 2011. Additionally, the Syrian regime has been responsible for 91 percent of all deaths of journalists and media workers due to torture inside its official and non-official detention centers.
As the report further reveals, ISIS killed 64 journalists, including one child, two women, three foreign journalists, and three journalists who died due to torture, while eight journalists, including two who died due to torture, were killed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Meanwhile, all armed opposition factions/the Syrian National Army (SNA) were responsible for the killing of 26 journalists, including one child and three women, while the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killed four journalists and media workers since March 2011. Lastly, international coalition forces killed one journalist, and 35 journalists, including one foreign journalist, were killed by other parties.
The report contains graphs showing the distribution of extrajudicial killings of journalists and media workers since March 2011 by year, and by Syrian governorates. This categorization shows that 2013 saw the highest number of documented deaths among journalists and media workers in Syria (approximately 25 percent of all deaths journalists and media workers), followed by 2012 (approximately 18 percent), and then 2014 (approximately 16 percent). In terms of governorates, Aleppo governorate saw the highest documented number of deaths among journalists and media workers with 22 percent of all deaths, followed by Daraa governorate with 17 percent, and Damascus suburbs with 16 percent.
On the subject of arbitrary arrest/detention and enforced disappearance the report records no fewer than 1,309 cases of arrest and abduction targeting journalists and media workers between March 2011 and May 2023. Of this total, 471 journalists, including nine women and 17 foreign journalists, are still under arrest and/or forcibly disappeared in the detention centers operated by the various parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. Those 471 cases include 387 who are still under arrest and/or forcibly disappeared at the hands of Syrian regime forces, including eight women and four foreign journalists, while 48 journalists, including one woman and eight foreign journalists, are still under arrest and/or forcibly disappeared by ISIS, 11 journalists by HTS, 12 journalists, including five foreign journalists, by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 13 by the SDF. In terms of governorates, the highest percentage of journalists and media workers who are still under arrest/forcibly disappeared were arrested in Aleppo governorate (approximately 14 percent), followed by the two governorates of Deir Ez-Zour and Damascus (11 percent each), and then Idlib (nine percent).
The report also outlines the most notable violations against journalists and media workers between May 2022 and May 2023. This period saw the killing of four journalists and media workers: one of these journalists was killed by Syrian regime forces, one by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and two by other parties. The last year also saw no fewer than 59 cases of arrest and abduction involving journalists and media workers, including six women. Of these, 24 journalists, including four women, were arrested by Syrian regime forces, while 12 were arrested by HTS. Moreover, six were arrested by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and lastly 17 journalists were arrested by SDF.
The report stresses 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 under their 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 calls on the UN Security Council and the international community to 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, to denounce the violations practiced by the parties to the conflict against journalists, and to support press institutions operating on Syrian territory in order to enable them to continue their work in reporting facts and events.
Furthermore, the report calls on all the parties to the conflict/controlling forces to immediately release journalists and media workers who have been arbitrarily detained, and to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared, as well as to repeal all ‘security laws’ which absolutely suppress and deny freedom of opinion and expression, especially those issued by the Syrian regime, in addition to making other recommendations.