Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held Aleppo neighborhood of Al-Shaath during a media tour, December 13, 2016. (Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)
Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held Aleppo neighborhood of Al-Shaath during a media tour, December 13, 2016. (Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

CPJ calls on Syrian government to protect journalists in Aleppo

New York, December 13, 2016–The Syrian government and its allies should ensure the safety of journalists in Aleppo, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Pro-government forces have in recent days made major advances on rebel-held territory in the city, threatening journalists and other civilians caught in the siege.

“For years journalists have faced incredible risks reporting from Aleppo, currently one of the most dangerous places in the world. We are extremely concerned that the number of journalists killed or arrested will spike dramatically as the government reasserts control over all of Aleppo,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington. “We urge all sides, and especially the Syrian government, to make every effort to guarantee the safety of civilians, including journalists, as mandated by international law.”

There were conflicting reports today about agreements to end fighting in Aleppo, formerly Syria’s largest city. Rebel groups, the Syrian government’s Russian backers, and Syrian military officials have made conflicting public statements about the contours of a cease-fire.

According to CPJ’s annual prison census released today, at least seven journalists were imprisoned by the Syrian government as of December 1. In recent years the number has declined from its peak of 15 as some journalists were released, others died in custody, and many fled beyond the government’s reach as refugees or to rebel-held territory.

Journalists who fled to rebel-held territory too often did not find safety, but instead faced the risk of abduction and murder. Still, more than half of the 107 journalists killed covering the Syrian conflict died from Syrian government fire, according to CPJ research. At least 16 journalists have been killed while covering events in Aleppo province.

In a statement yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his alarm over “reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo.” The office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights today cited “multiple reports” as saying that pro-government forces killed at least 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children, in four neighborhoods of the city yesterday. Hundreds of men may have disappeared after leaving rebel-held territory, the high commissioner’s office said, according to news reports. The Syrian military denied claims civilians were summarily executed yesterday in the violence, The Associated Press reported.

CPJ today joined a coalition of international media assistance and press freedom organizations in issuing a joint statement calling on all sides of the conflict “to ensure that steps are taken to safeguard the lives of all civilians, including media workers living and working in Aleppo and those media workers choosing to leave the city.”