Syrian journalist killed in city of Hama

New York, September 21, 2012–Syrian security forces launched an assault Wednesday on the home of a cameraman who had recorded hundreds of videos on the country’s conflict, burning the house and killing the journalist and three of his friends, local activists told international news outlets. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the brutal attack and calls on all sides to stop targeting journalists.

The assault took place in the central city of Hama at the home of Abdel Karim al-Oqda, a cameraman and reporter for Shaam News Network, a citizen news organization based in Damascus. News reports said soldiers killed the journalist and his friends first and then burned the house, but the exact manner of their deaths was not reported. An amateur video posted on YouTube showed four badly burned bodies, the reports said.

Agence-France Presse cited a media activist as saying that the army had targeted al-Oqda’s house because of his coverage of the unrest. “They knew very well who he was. The whole of Hama knew how much of the revolution he had filmed,” the activist said, according to AFP.

Al-Oqda, who used the pseudonym Abu Hassan, worked as Shaam’s reporter in Hama and filmed more than a thousand videos for the network and his YouTube channel, according to news reports. He covered fighting between regime forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army, bombardments by government troops, and civilian deaths, news reports said.

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

“We condemn this brutal targeting and murder of Abdel Karim al-Oqda,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists are civilians, and the army must know that it will be held accountable for its actions against reporters.”

At least 21 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, making Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research.

CPJ has documented a resurgence in dangers facing the press in Syria over the past five weeks, including the disappearance of three foreign journalists. Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal and reporter Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, who work for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra, were reported missing in the northwestern city of Aleppo on August 20, according to news reports. Six days later, Ünal appeared in a video saying he had been taken captive while reporting in Syria, but did not explicitly name his captors, although the video appeared on a pro-government television channel. The cameraman made no mention of Fahmi. No further information is known about the journalists’ whereabouts or condition.

U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice has not been heard from for over a month. At the end of August, the Czech ambassador who represents U.S. interests in Syria said the government had detained Tice, but Syrian authorities have refused to confirm if they are holding him, according to news reports. No further information is known about his whereabouts or condition.

“We call on the captors of Cüneyt Ünal, Bashar Fahmi, and Austin Tice to release them,” said CPJ’s Mahoney.

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