Colvin and Ochlik. (AFP)
Colvin and Ochlik. (AFP)

CPJ condemns killings of 3 journalists in besieged Homs

New York, February 22, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the killings of three journalists who died today and Tuesday as Syrian forces continued intense shelling of the besieged city of Homs. The acclaimed international reporter Marie Colvin and the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik were killed this morning when their makeshift press center came under fire, while local videographer Rami al-Sayed died while covering a bombardment on Tuesday. At least three other journalists were reported injured.

“Our colleagues Marie Colvin, Rémi Ochlik, and Rami al-Sayed gave their lives to report a story of grave importance, a story the Syrian government has sought to choke off from rest of the world,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, speaking from Cairo. “The deaths of these local and international journalists illustrate the escalating dangers to independent journalists working in Syria and the unacceptable price our colleagues are being forced to pay.”

Colvin, an American reporting for The Sunday Times of London, and Ochlik, a freelance photojournalist, were killed when a building being used as a makeshift media center was bombarded, news reports said. Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based daily Liberation, told the British newspaper The Telegraph that he and Colvin had been advised a few days ago to leave the city because Syrian forces might target the impromptu press center, which had limited but precious electricity and Internet access. Perrin said the two left the city, although Colvin later returned. The interview did not specify who had advised them to leave. News reports raised speculation that Syrian forces could have identified the location of the makeshift press center through the reporters’ satellite signals.

At least three other journalists working in the press center were wounded in today’s shelling. Paul Conroy, a Times photographer, and Edith Bouvier, a reporter for Le Figaro, were being treated for leg wounds, news reports said. William Daniels, another photographer for the Times, was slightly injured, according to news reports.

Al-Sayed, a videographer whose work appeared on a live streaming site and was picked up by international news organizations, died in a local hospital on Tuesday after being wounded that day, according to news reports. Al-Sayed transmitted video of events in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr to the live streaming site Bambuser, and had uploaded hundreds of videos to his YouTube channel. His footage was used by several international and regional news organizations, news reports said. He was the cousin of Basil al-Sayed, a videographer killed while working in Baba Amr in December.

By controlling local news reports and expelling or denying entry to dozens of foreign journalists, the Syrian government has sought to impose a blackout on independent news coverage since the country’s uprising began almost a year ago, CPJ research shows. But along with the intensity of the conflict, the dangers to the press have risen dramatically in recent months–both for independent citizen journalists such as the al-Sayeds and the international journalists who have smuggled themselves into Syria at extremely high risk. In her last article for the Times, Colvin wrote that like many other foreign journalists, she had snuck into Homs along a smuggler’s route.

New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died Thursday from an apparent asthma attack as he was leaving Syria following coverage of the conflict. Four other local and international journalists have died since November.

Colvin, 55, was considered one of the world’s preeminent international journalists. She lost an eye covering the Sri Lankan civil war a decade ago, one of numerous dangerous assignments from the Balkans to Chechnya that she had covered during her distinguished career. Ochlik, a freelancer, covered the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and the war in Libya, according to his website. Born in 1983, his website said, Ochlik had work published in Le Monde, VSD, Paris Match, Time, and The Wall Street Journal.