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On World Press Freedom Day: 717 Journalists and Media Workers Have Been Documented as Killed by the Parties to the Conflict and Controlling Forces in Syria Since March 2011, Including 53 Who Died due Torture

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Law No. 19 Promulgated by the Syrian Regime Contravenes the Most Basic Principles of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Further Perpetuates the Executive Branch’s Grip on the Media

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Marking World Press Freedom, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released a statement, noting that it documented the killing of 717 journalists and media workers at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011, including 53 who died due to torture. The group added that Law No. 19 that was recently promulgated by the Syrian regime violates the most basic principles of freedom of opinion and expression, and further perpetuates the executive branch’s grip on the media.

The statement notes that, Since the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria, the various parties to the conflict have unapologetically carried out practices that violate the freedom of press, opinion, and expression. We have documented numerous types of serious violations, including extrajudicial killings, arrest/enforced disappearance, torture, assaults on facilities, and imposing laws that restrict the freedom of press, opinion, and expression. 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 practically 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 statement stresses that Law No. 19 of 2024, which was promulgated by the Syrian regime on April 23, 2024, and which introduces a new Ministry of Media that is set to supplant the older one, aims to place further and unprecedented restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, not to mention the fact that it is riddled by contradictions, and contravenes, in a number of articles, international instruments on human rights.  Even more absurd is the fact that it conflicts with the Syrian Constitution adopted by the Syrian regime itself in 2012. The statement references a number of articles that provides for the new Ministry of Media to be the absolute supervising authority over journalistic and media work, which manifests, as the new law establishes, in a number of ways, including controlling TV production through a body called the National Committee on Drama, which would be responsible for framing the policies for production, scripting, and distribution. The statement notes that the Syrian regime is trying to place an even tighter grip on TV production in particular, and all media outlets in a more general sense, in order to promote its propaganda that has been spouting for years, which is based on omitting facts, discrediting the narrative of the Syrian people’s uprising for democracy, polishing the image of the Syrian regime, denying its crimes, and asserting its narratives.

As the report further notes, while the Syrian regime is by far the party most responsible for violations against journalists and media workers, it is not the only main party that committed such violations. Indeed, all parties to the conflict and controlling forces have violated the rights of journalists and media workers, especially when those individuals expose the violations of those de facto powers. Broadly, all of these parties have resorted to a policy of silencing mouths. As a result of those compounded, continued violations, Syria has become over the past 13 years one of the world’s worst countries in terms of freedom of press, as well as freedom of opinion and expression, in light of the numerous violations taking place in those areas.

The statement outlines the toll of the most prominent violations against journalists and media workers in Syria since March 2011 up until 2024. The statement records the killing of 717 journalists and media workers, including seven children and six women (adult females), as well as nine foreign journalists and 53 journalists who died due to torture, and the injury of no fewer than 1,612 others at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and May 2024. Of the 717, the Syrian regime was responsible for the killing of 554 journalists, including five children, one woman, five foreign journalists, and 48 journalists who died due to torture, while 24 journalists were killed at the hands of Russian forces. 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 since March 2011. Lastly, US-led International Coalition forces killed one journalist, and 36 journalists, including one foreign journalist, were killed by other parties.

On the subject of arbitrary arrest/detention and enforced disappearance the report records no fewer than 1,358 cases of arrest and abduction targeting journalists and media workers between March 2011 and May 2024. Of this total, 486 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 486 cases include 392 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, 15 journalists by HTS, 14 journalists, including five foreign journalists, by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 17 by the SDF.

The statement also outlines the most notable violations against journalists and media workers between May 2023 and May 2024. This period saw the killing of two journalists and media workers: one by Syrian regime forces and one by other parties. The last year also saw no fewer than 49 cases of arrest and abduction involving journalists and media workers, including two women. Of these, 13 journalists, including two women, were arrested by Syrian regime forces, while 16 were arrested by HTS. Moreover, 11x were arrested by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and lastly nine journalists were arrested by SDF.

The statement stresses that, as long as dictatorship and despotism continue to exist in Syria, the country will never enjoy freedom of press, opinion, and expression. 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 statement adds that all the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria 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 freedom of press.

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