Beirut, February 26, 2020 — Russian and Syrian military forces must ensure the safety of journalists and other civilians and hold those responsible for journalists’ deaths to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 20, a Russian airstrike on the northern Syrian city of Ma’arat al-Naasan killed Abdul Nasser Haj Hamdan, a photographer working for the Media Office in Binnish, a pro-civil rights opposition outlet, according to news reports and a Facebook post by his employer.
“Indiscriminate missile strikes inevitably cause civilian casualties, including those of journalists documenting the conflict,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “The Russian and Syrian militaries must take serious steps to ensure that those who kill journalists and other civilians, in violation of international law, are held accountable.”
A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter jet fired a missile into Ma’arat al-Naasan, a city 4.6 miles northeast of Idlib, which exploded near Hamdan and severely injured him in the blast, an employee of the Media Office in Binnish, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told CPJ.
“He was immediately transferred to the hospital in the city of Idlib, where he underwent surgery to stop the internal bleeding and was placed in intensive care for four hours after which he died as a result of severe bleeding,” Hamdan’s coworker said.
Hamdan had worked as a journalist since 2015, and covered events around Idlib, including the recent bombing campaign and anti-government demonstrations, the coworker said. He also worked on a documentary film about the city of Binnish between 2017 and 2019, they said.
In a separate incident on the same day, two Syrian photographers, Ahmad Mohammad Rahal and Ibrahim Muhammad al-Darwish, were injured in an airstrike in the village of Qmenas, 3.7 miles southeast of Idlib, according to news reports and a report by the Syrian Journalists’ Association, a France-based independent journalist syndicate.
Rahal, a freelance photographer and camera operator who contributes to the Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency and the British broadcaster Sky News, told the Syrian Journalists’ Association that he sustained bruises to his chest and lost his equipment in the airstrike while he was covering clashes between opposition factions and government-aligned forces in Qmenas.
In a video interview with Sky News, Rahal said that he heard on his walkie talkie that Russian aircraft were flying over Qmenas and Al-Nayrab, and moments later there was an explosion close to him. He wrote on Twitter that the explosion took place 4 meters away from him and was followed by intense cluster bombing.
Al-Darwish, a freelance photographer who contributes to Anadolu Agency, told the association that he was hit by shrapnel in his hands and legs from the same airstrike, and suffered minor burns to his face.
According to CPJ research, 134 journalists have been killed in Syria since the uprisings began in 2011.