Syrian residents inspect houses destroyed by what they say was heavy shelling from government forces in Homs on Tuesday. (Reuters/Yazan Homsy)
Syrian residents inspect houses destroyed by what they say was heavy shelling from government forces in Homs on Tuesday. (Reuters/Yazan Homsy)

In Syria, wave of deadly attacks against journalists

New York, August 14, 2012–A series of attacks against journalists in Syria over the past two weeks have included the killing of at least three journalists and the kidnapping of several others, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Pro-government media have borne the brunt of the recent attacks.

“We call on all sides in Syria to remember that journalists covering conflict are civilians and attacks against them constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists have already paid a heavy price in Syria and are risking their lives daily to cover the news. They must be protected.”

Hatem Abu Yehia, a camera assistant with the pro-government television station Al-Ikhbariya, is believed dead, his employer reported on Monday, according to the SANA state news agency. Abu Yehia was kidnapped by rebels belonging to the Free Syrian Army in the Damascus suburb of Al-Tal on Friday along with his colleagues Yara al-Saleh, an anchor for the station, Abdullah Tubara, a cameraman, and driver Hussam Imand, according to news reports. The Al-Ikhbariya team was covering clashes in Al-Tal between rebels and security forces when they were kidnapped, news reports said.

A video posted by the Free Syrian Army shows a rebel spokesperson saying Abu Yehia was killed in government shelling of Al-Tal along with two rebel fighters, The Associated Press reported. The other two Al-Ikhbariya journalists and their driver appear in the video saying they are in good health and being treated well, according to the AP.

On Saturday, Ali Abbas, head of domestic news at SANA, was killed by unidentified gunmen at his home in Jdaidat Artouz in Damascus, according to a statement on SANA’s website. Abbas’ employer said he was killed by “armed terrorist groups” as part of a campaign to silence government-aligned media, but provided no further details. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that unidentified gunmen shot Abbas in his home, according to news reports.

On the same day, Bara’a Yusuf al-Bushi, who contributed reports and footage to international outlets including the pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, and Sky News, was killed in government shelling of Al-Tal while covering clashes there, Al-Arabiya reported. Al-Bushi had defected to the Free Syrian Army in May from his mandatory government military service, news reports said. His friend, a Syrian citizen journalist who goes by the pseudonym Mattar Ismail, told CPJ that Al-Bushi graduated from Damascus University with a journalism degree and wrote for the news website Syria News in 2009 before beginning his military service in 2010.

CPJ is also concerned about the fate of Mohamed al-Saeed, a state TV presenter. Al-Nusra Front, an armed Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed on the website of Shabkat Ansar al-Sham to have executed al-Saeed on August 3 after kidnapping him on July 19 in Damascus, according to news reports. Al-Saeed hosted a show called “Hadith al-Balad” (Talk of the Country) for the state broadcaster, news reports said. No news organizations have reported that they independently confirmed his death.

On August 3, Talal Janbakeli, a cameraman for Syrian state TV, was filming in Damascus when he was kidnapped by armed men from a rebel group called Haroun al-Rashid Battalion, according to news reports. The group posted a video on YouTube with a frightened Janbakeli saying he had been captured. In the video, armed men ask the cameraman what advice he has for his colleagues; he responds that they should abandon President Bashar al-Assad and his army.

Attacks against pro-government media have increased over the past couple of months. On August 6, a bomb ripped through the third floor of the Syrian state TV and radio building in Damascus, according to news reports. At least three people were wounded, news reports said. It was not specified if the wounded were journalists. In June, CPJ documented an attack against Al-Ikhbariya’s headquarters which killed seven employees, including at least two journalists.

The latest wave of attacks follows the release of two kidnapped foreign journalists at the end of July after they were held captive for a week, according to news reports. John Cantlie, a British freelance photographer, and Jeroen Oerlemans, a Dutch freelance photographer, were kidnapped by armed Islamic militants while crossing into Syria from Turkey on July 19, news reports said. Oerlemans told the media that their capturers were not Syrian and that they were rescued by a group they believed to be anti-government Syrian fighters.

  • For more data and analysis on Syria, visit CPJ’s Syria page here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this alert incorrectly said Al-Nusra Front claimed to have beheaded al-Saeed and that the statement was dated on August 4. The original version also incorrectly translated the name of an armed group as the Haroun al-Rashid Brigades.