Ali Mahmoud Othman, who ran a makeshift media center in the besieged Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria, died in government custody on December 30, 2013, according to a document from the civil registry office in Homs obtained by his family in early 2019, which CPJ has reviewed, and a statement by the Syrian Journalists Association, a France-based press freedom group. The document states neither the cause of death nor the place where Othman died.
Othman was detained by a military intelligence unit in Aleppo on March 28, 2012, and then transferred to a prison in Damascus, Paul Conroy, a photographer for The Sunday Times, said in an interview with British broadcaster Channel 4 on March 31, 2012.
Conroy — who was injured in a government attack on the Baba Amr media center, which killed journalists Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik — said on Channel 4 that Othman was instrumental in getting journalists in and out of the embattled district. He said in the same interview that Othman, originally a vegetable vendor, was one of the first Syrians to use video to document the unrest in Homs.
Othman appeared on Syrian state television in May 2012 for what the station described as an interview but which journalists at the time called a forced confession, according to civil society website Global Voices. It was his last public appearance, according to CPJ’s review of media from the time.
In the Channel 4 interview, Conroy cited sources from Baba Amr as saying that Othman had been tortured by government forces. Throughout 2012, international reporters and diplomats, including then British Foreign Secretary William Hague, also expressed concern that Othman was tortured while in custody, according to news reports.
The Syrian mission to the United Nations and the Syrian Interior Ministry did not respond to CPJ’s emails requesting information on Othman’s death.
Citizen journalists such as Othman filled the information void as the Syrian regime barred international journalists from entering the country to cover the civil war, CPJ research shows.
Othman’s name does not appear on the Syrian human rights organization Violations Documentation Center’s list of 8,000 detainees who were killed under torture in prisons run by the Syrian Government.
CPJ listed Othman on its annual prison census between 2012 and 2018, before learning in 2019 of the official documentation of his death dated 2013.