Syrian freelance journalist Jihad Jamal died in government custody on November 2, 2016, according to a death certificate from the civil registry office obtained by his family in early March 2020, which CPJ has reviewed. The death certificate states that Jamal died in Damascus, but it does not mention the cause of death. He had been jailed since 2012.
Jamal’s wife, Laila Jaafar, told CPJ via messaging app on April 15, 2020, that there were rumors on social media in 2018 saying that Jamal had died under torture in Sednaya Military Prison, a nefarious prison run by Syrian military police, but Jamal’s family could neither confirm those rumors, nor did they receive any notification from the Syrian authorities concerning Jamal’s death.
According to Jafaar, Jamal’s father had been able to visit him in jail on occasion and with much difficulty until 2016.
“I think that the last time he visited him in jail was in 2016. The next time he tried to visit him, he was told that Jihad was no longer there and they knew nothing about him. We don’t know whether he was transferred to another jail or if he was executed or died under torture in Sednaya Prison and they didn’t want to tell his father the truth,” Jaafar said.
Jafaar told CPJ that they did not want to believe the rumors of his death that were circulating on social media until relatives obtained a document from the civil registry office in early March 2020 stating that he had died on November 2, 2016.
“We haven’t heard from any person who witnessed his death in prison, but I am sure that Jihad will not die without leaving a message for his son,” Jafaar added.
Jamal was arrested by Syrian security forces along with human right activists at a café in Damascus on March 7, 2012, according to news reports and the Syrian human rights organization Violations Documentation Center. His case was transferred to a military court in May 2012 and, according to the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, he was transferred to Sednaya Military Prison in December 2012. Some organizations reported that he was executed after a trial, but CPJ could not independently confirm this information.
Prior to his arrest Jamal was a contributor to local news websites, and covered human rights issues. He also aggregated news stories for dissemination to international outlets. Jamal contributed reporting to the broadcaster Al-Aan TV, as well as to other broadcasters, including Orient TV and Al-Jazeera, according to Jamal’s wife.
Jafaar also told CPJ that Jamal was active on social media, where he wrote about art and human rights, but his social media accounts were closed after every arrest.
According to the Syrian human rights organization Violations Documentation Center, Jamal had been arrested several times previous to the final arrest in 2012. One arrest came in October 2011, when he was detained along with Sean McAllister, a British reporter working for the U.K.’s Channel 4, according to a report by Channel 4. Local news websites said his repeated arrests stemmed from his reporting on human rights abuses and on Syria’s popular uprising, according to a CPJ review of the sites at the time of his arrest.
The Violations Documentation Center reported that Jamal was referred to a court on March 7, 2013, and that authorities later executed the journalist. The center’s website did not specify what charge he faced, and CPJ was unable to verify the center’s report.
CPJ emailed associations representing Syrian detainees, including Families for Freedom and the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees, for further information about Jamal’s case, but as of April 2020 none of them had replied.
As of April 2020, neither the Syrian mission to the United Nations nor the Syrian Interior Ministry had responded to CPJ’s emailed request for official confirmation of Jamal’s death and the cause of it.