Zaher Mtawe’e was shot in the head while he was covering clashes in the town of Zebdine, according to the Syrian Journalists Association, news reports, and his opposition media group, the Zebdine Coordination Committee.
Simon, the committee’s spokesman who uses a pseudonym to protect his family still in Syria, told CPJ that Mtawe’e was shot in the head by a sniper while he was on the fourth floor of a building, at least 700 meters away from fighting. He said that at the time of his death, Mtawe’e was reporting for the committee about the government’s military forces advancing to regain control of the town of Zebdine in the outskirts of Damascus.
Mtawe’e was one of three members of the Zebdine Coordination Committee, where he worked as a field reporter and covered clashes in Zebdine and surrounding towns, Simon told CPJ. The Zebdine Coordination Committee is an opposition media group that is part of the umbrella Local Coordination Committees of Syria. According to the group’s spokesman, the committee was founded early in the Syrian war as a branch of the Local Coordination Committees that focused on Zebdine and nearby areas. The group’s members participate in opposition activities, including organizing protests and delivering humanitarian aid.
Mtawe’e reported on clashes, including their aftermath and any casualties, as well as on humanitarian issues. The committee issues its coverage on Facebook where it has almost 3,000 followers. Other local news outlets such as Orient News and Day Press News have used the Coordination Committee’s pictures in their coverage of the area.
The committee spokesman told CPJ that Mtawe’e gave up his job as an electrician when the Syrian civil war began and started documenting events with his camera in and around his town. He later became an official member of the Zebdine Coordination Committee. Mtawe’e also posted pictures and videos of the clashes on his personal Facebook and YouTube pages. His videos, which were often posted with the Zebdine Coordination Committee’s logo, have more than 100,000 views.
Mtawe’e’s brother told CPJ that the journalist would often report from the frontlines and that local news outlets would often ask Mtawe’e for his photographs, videos, and any other information on the conflict in the area.
His brother told CPJ that there had been previous attempts by government forces to kill Mtawe’e, and he also faced several threats from Islamist groups after exposing corruption in their leadership. CPJ could not confirm these claims.
The day Mtatwe’e died, the Zebdine Coordination Committee posted a photo of him on its Facebook page that showed him holding a gun with a caption calling him a “mujahid” hero and journalist. Mtatwe’e’s brother and Simon, the spokesman for the Committee, told CPJ that Mtatwe’e had never participated in any fighting or carried any weapons while reporting.