On April 30, 2014, the Palestinian TV station Palestine Today reported that Bilal, a reporter for the station and a contributor to several Arabic-language news outlets, had died in prison. The station did not offer further details. Reports by local human rights groups and news outlets said the journalist had been tortured to death.
It is not clear when the journalist died. Some news outlets citing activists reported that he died in December 2013 and that the family had been notified on his death on April 29, 2014.
Bilal had been held in Sednaya Prison, about 30 kilometers north of Damascus, since his arrest in September 2011, according to the local rights group SKeyes and news reports.
There were conflicting reports about where Bilal was arrested. His wife said he was arrested at a regime checkpoint, according to the online media outlet Syria Deeply. Local news reports also citing his family said he had been taken from his home in Damascus to an army recruitment center in the town of Daraya.
Prior to his arrest in 2011, Bilal was preparing travel documents to go to Lebanon on assignment for Palestine Today, news reports said.
In June 2013, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the Arabic international satellite news channel Al-An TV reported that a military field court had sentenced Bilal to 15 years in prison, but the outlets did not specify the charges. The news website Middle East Monitor reported that Bilal was accused of protesting against the government and filming. The news website Zaman Al Wsl said Bilal faced charges related to his alleged support of the Syrian revolution.
Mahmoud Zaibak, a Syrian journalist, told CPJ that he and Bilal had filmed the demonstrations against the Assad regime from April 2011 to June 2011, covering the early developments of the Syrian conflict and appearing on various news channels as well. Zaibak said security forces subsequently broke in to his home and trade store. He said he fled Syria, but Bilal stayed behind and was eventually arrested.
At least one other journalist, Abdul Raheem Kour Hassan, died under mysterious circumstances in regime custody, according to CPJ research.
Human rights organizations have long condemned the Syrian regime’s use of torture in its prisons.