One journalist killed, another reported missing in Syria

New York, October 16, 2012–The heavy toll on news media covering the conflict in Syria has grown yet again over the past week as a journalist for a pro-government TV station was killed and a Ukrainian journalist working for Russian news outlets is believed to be kidnapped.

“Covering the conflict in Syria has become the most dangerous assignment for journalists in the world. It is particularly dangerous for local Syrian journalists who risk becoming targets because of perceived affiliations,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “All sides must remember that journalists are civilians and must not be targeted for simply doing their job.”

Mohammed al-Ashram, a cameraman for the TV station Al-Ikhbariya, was shot and killed on October 10 while covering clashes between Syrian government forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army in the eastern city of Deir Al-Zour, according to his employer.

Al-Ashram was shot in the chest and leg, Al-Ikhbariya reported. Imad Sara, the station’s director, told Agence France-Presse that al-Ashram “was killed by terrorists.” Since the start of the uprising in March 2011, the regime has used “terrorists” as a catch-all phrase for all opposition fighters, according to news reports.

While CPJ research indicates that many of the fatalities in Syria have been at the hands of government forces, an increasing number of attacks against journalists and news outlets seen as pro-government have been attributed to rebel forces. At least 23 other journalists have been killed while 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.

Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian who has contributed to several Russian news outlets including the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today, disappeared on October 9, according to news reports. Russia Today reported that one of Kochneva’s colleagues said she had gone to Homs to prepare a report for the Russian television station NTV. She is believed to have been kidnapped in Homs near the Lebanese border, the report said.

Oleksandr Dikusarov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, told Agence France-Presse that Kochneva had contacted NTV on October 12 or 13 and told them she was being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army but was being treated satisfactorily. Dikusarov said Ukraine and Russia were working to secure Kochneva’s release, according to The Associated Press.

Kochneva, 40, is a fluent Arabic speaker and has been working in Syria for the past year, according to news reports. She has publicly defended the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in television interviews to Russian and Syrian pro-regime news outlets and has reportedly received threatening text messages, according to news reports.

Three other international journalists disappeared in Syria in August. 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, and U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice also disappeared in mid-August, according to news reports. Tice is believed to be held in Syrian state custody, according to the U.S. State Department. Ünal appeared in a video on Al-Ikhbariya six days after his capture, but did not specify who his captors were. Fahmi’s whereabouts remain unknown.

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