Three Orient News journalists killed in Syria

New York, December 9, 2014–Three journalists from the Syrian opposition TV station Orient News were killed on Monday while headed to cover the aftermath of clashes in the village of Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa Province, according to their station and other news reports. The station said it believed the journalists were directly targeted by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

According to Orient News, correspondents Rami Asmi and Yousef El-Dous and cameraman Salem Khalil were driving to cover recent opposition advances in Sheikh Miskeen when their car was hit by a guided missile fired by government forces. Orient News reported today that the three journalists passed government forces in the village of Qarfa on their way to Sheikh Miskeen, minutes before they were killed. Orient News and Siraj Press, another opposition news outlet, reported that the missile was launched from Qarfa, about two miles from Sheikh Miskeen. It was not clear how the outlets determined the origin of the missile.

The car was not marked as a press vehicle, but Orient News said it was identifiable because it was carrying a satellite dish nearly 6 feet in diameter.

The Committee to Protect Journalists could not independently verify the claim that a missile directly targeted the car. CPJ research shows that government forces have likely targeted journalists directly in attempt to censor their reporting.

“So many Syrian journalists have paid the ultimate price for reporting on this conflict, but even for Syria, the loss of three journalists in one attack is devastating,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Journalists covering conflict are civilians and we call on Syrian authorities to respect that status.”

On the same day, Orient News posted a report on its YouTube page about opposition advances in Sheikh Miskeen after weeks of fighting in the area.

In a phone interview, the head of reporters at Orient News, Mohanad al-Sayed Ali, told CPJ that the reporters were targeted by the Assad regime as part of its efforts to silence journalists. He said Orient News had issued more than 40 broadcasts and 60 reports in the past two months from the southern part of Syria.

More than 70 other journalists have been killed covering the conflict that has lasted for more than three years, according to CPJ research. The vast majority of those killed were local journalists like the Orient TV crew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been corrected to reflect that Orient News had issued more than 40 broadcasts and 60 reports in the past two months–not in the past year, as originally stated.