Two journalists killed in two days in Syria

New York, March 10, 2014–Two journalists were killed over the weekend while covering the conflict in Syria, the deadliest country for the press.

On Saturday, a cameraman working for the Beirut-based TV station Al-Mayadeen was killed while covering clashes between government and rebel forces in the eastern province of Deir Al-Zour, according to news reports. According to the pro-Syrian government outlet Al-Mayadeen, Omar Abdul Qader was shot in the neck by a sniper.

There were conflicting reports about whether Abdul Qader died in a hospital or while being transported to a local hospital. Videos posted by Al-Mayadeen and other pro-government outlets show Abdul Qader’s body being carried by government forces on a stretcher.

The next day, at least eight individuals, including a Canadian freelance photographer, were killed in consecutive bomb blasts in Aleppo. Ali Mustafa was reporting on the first blast, which was caused by a barrel bomb dropped by a regime helicopter, when a second bomb exploded, according to news reports.

Mustafa, an activist and photographer, had documented Arab protest movements in Egypt and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He had recently started working for the Germany-based European Pressphoto Agency and the Paris-based photo agency SIPA, according to The Associated Press. His images for EPA had been picked up by multiple outlets, including The Guardian, The Times of London, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

A vigil in Mustafa’s honor was held in his hometown of Toronto on Sunday, the Canadian press reported.

From the beginning of the conflict, the Syrian regime sought to impose a blackout on news coverage by controlling local news and expelling or denying entry to foreign journalists. The rising influence of Al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups also increased the danger of reporting on the conflict, leading many journalists to tell CPJ that entering Syria was no longer worth the risk. CPJ research shows that more international journalists have now begun entering Syria again as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), a rebel group once affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has withdrawn from some key positions in northern Syria as a result of rebel infighting.

Leaders of Al-Qaeda disavowed the rebel group earlier this year, citing the group’s extreme tactics and failure to cooperate, according to reports.

“The deaths of Omar Abdul Qader and Ali Mostafa are a tragic reminder that Syria remains the most dangerous country in the world,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “Even as players in the conflict change their positions, and the balance of power shifts, one thing remains constant: Journalists face a myriad of dangers in Syria.”

At least 29 journalists were killed covering Syria in 2013, according to CPJ research. The number includes French freelance photojournalist Olivier Voisin, who was injured in Syria and succumbed to his wounds in Turkey in February 2013.