An image released by the Shaam News Network shows heavy shelling in Homs. At least five journalists were killed in Syria at the end of May, two of them in Homs. (AP/Shaam News Network)
An image released by the Shaam News Network shows heavy shelling in Homs. At least five journalists were killed in Syria at the end of May, two of them in Homs. (AP/Shaam News Network)

Five citizen journalists killed over two days in Syria

Cairo, June 8, 2012–Five citizen journalists have been killed in Syria while documenting unrest in Damascus and Homs, according to news reports and local journalists. All of the deaths occurred over a two-day period at the end of May.

“This is another tragic reminder of the role that citizen journalists have played covering the conflict in Syria, including the documentation of horrific violence perpetrated against civilians,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon from New York. “While the Syrian government’s efforts to eliminate witnesses to its actions have failed, the cost to local and international journalists has been exceedingly high.”

Three journalists who worked for the citizen news organization Shaam News Network were killed on May 27 while they filmed clashes between security forces and armed rebels in Damascus, a Shaam News Network representative who asked not to be identified told CPJ. Ammar Mohamed Suhail Zado, the director of Shaam in Homs, Ahmed Adnan al-Ashlaq, a correspondent, and Lawrence Fahmy al-Naimi, the head of live streaming for the network, were filming the clashes from an apartment in the Al-Midan neighborhood when their building was shelled by security forces, the representative said.

Members of the news network believe that due to the heavy presence of intelligence officials in Damascus, security forces could have targeted the journalists based on their location, the Shaam representative told CPJ. The representative also said that the army had taken the bodies of the three journalists and had not returned them to their families in Homs for proper burial.

News accounts reported that the three journalists had been killed in Homs, but the Shaam representative told CPJ they had been killed in Damascus.

Shaam News Network, based in Damascus, has posted thousands of videos documenting the unrest in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. The organization’s footage has been used by international news organizations such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC.

Two more journalists were killed the next day. Bassel al-Shahade, a citizen journalist and filmmaker, along with Ahmed al-Assam, his cameraman, who was also known as Ahmed Abu Ibrahim, were filming the unrest in Homs when they were killed by government shelling in the neighborhood of Safsafa on May 28, according to news reports. Al-Shahade and al-Assam were filming incursions by security forces, when a shell hit their car and killed them, Amer Matar, an exiled Syrian journalist and a close friend of al-Shahade, told CPJ. News reports have suggested that security forces targeted the journalists because they were filming.

Al-Shahade was working on a film commemorating the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, Matar said. He had received a Fulbright scholarship to study film at Syracuse University in New York, but had taken a leave of absence after the fall semester to return to Syria and cover the uprising, news reports said. In December 2011, he was interviewed by the U.S.-based broadcast program Democracy Now! about the Syrian unrest.

Al-Assam had produced a number of reports on the conflict in Homs, including a report widely used by regional news outlets on the mass emigration of people from the war-torn city, according to news reports.

The journalists were accompanied by two students, who have not been identified.

CPJ research shows that at least nine local and international journalists have been killed on duty in Syria since November, at least six in circumstances that raise questions about government culpability, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.