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Syria: ‘A cemetery for journalists’

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has published a new report documenting the targeted killing, kidnapping and imprisonment of journalists around the world in 2013. Syria had the lion’s share: at least 10 journalists and 35 citizen-journalists were killed in Syria this year (out of a total of 71 cases documented globally); 49 journalists were kidnapped (out of a total of 87); in addition to tens imprisoned or missing.

The figures include both foreign and Syrian journalists but are likely to be very conservative figures as many, many more Syrian activists who have been conducting journalistic work but are not recognized as professional journalists, or even citizen-journalists, have been targeted by the regime security forces and the armed militias fighting alongside them (namely Hezbollah Lebanon and the Iraqi Mehdi Army). But even these conservative figures were enough for Reporters Without Borders to dub Syria as a “cemetery for news providers.” (See also this earlier RWB report:,45424.html)

The new report notes that the pace of arrests of foreign journalists by the Syrian regime’s security forces “has let up”, but more than 40 news providers are still “languishing in the regime’s jails, putting Syria among the world’s five biggest prisons for news providers.” At the same time, the number of abductions of foreign and Syrian journalists has risen in the ‘liberated’ areas, where foreign journalists were increasingly targeted by extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). But their Syrian colleagues “were the most exposed,” the report adds.

It should be noted that there have been many protests in the liberated areas recently against this and other repressive and criminal practices by ISIS, leading many observers to conclude that Syrian people are now living through two revolutions: one against the regime and the other against extremist groups such as ISIS.


Calls for the protection of journalists covering wars and armed conflicts, such as a letter signed by major international news agencies and newspapers in early December (see, are almost meaningless in contexts such as that of Syria, where extreme violence and a vicious propaganda war have not spared anyone who is considered to be an enemy of the Syrian regime, from freedom fighters to innocent children. Nonetheless, Reporters Without Borders has made submissions to the UN secretary-general that Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s statute should be amended so that “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” are defined as war crimes. This will make the countries supporting the Syrian regime (namely Iran and Russia) complicit in these war crimes, according to the Geneva Conventions, and should therefore be held responsible too.

One should also note that Iran itself is not much better than Syria in terms of freedom of the press. According to the Reporters Without Borders report, 20 Iranian journalists and 51 bloggers and citizen-journalists were imprisoned in 2013, while 12 fled the country to escape government persecution.

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