When reporters become the targets
On Tuesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) denounced the Turkish government for arresting it’s longtime representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoglu, on charges of “terrorist propaganda” a month after having taken part in a campaign of solidarity with pro-Kurdish media.
It was only the latest insult against journalists trying to survive and work in the post-Arab Spring era.
On June 12th. RSF slammed Turkish authorities when a Syrian journalist named Ahmed Abdelqader, 33, the founder and editor of the online journal Aynala al-Watan (“Eye on Homeland) who is a refugee in southeastern Turkey, just barely managed to survive a second assassination attempt.
Islamic State claimed responsibility the drive-by shooting of Abdelqader in the southeastern city of Urfa on the evening of 12 June. He remains hospitalized.
According to RSF, over 200 reporters have been killed since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, and at least 50 remain missing or are held by armed Islamist militias.
Speaking with The Media Line, Marwan Hisham, a Syrian journalist currently living as a refugee in Turkey and co-author of the upcoming book Brothers of the Gun said that in honor of the moment “I'd like to pay tribute to all brave journalists all around the world who endanger their lives to get the stories they see out, despite all challenges. Targeting journalists and restricting their movements to conceal the truth is not something new, but I believe there hasn't been a time journalists, especially independent ones, were deliberately harassed like they are nowadays. The Syrian war has exposed the unspeakable horror journalists are vulnerable to, not only in war zones but in exile also: a number of journalists were assassinated or arrested not only by violent groups but by governments also. Others had to leave this risky profession fearing persecution.”
“Now I can't go back to work from there,” he said, about abandoning his work in Syria to save his own life.
Perhaps the Nobel Academy in Stockholm was looking eastward, far eastward, when it awarded the Russian journalist Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015.
Alexievich, who writes massive oral histories of suffering people, neither novels nor poems, is one of the most unusual laureates ever chosen. She refers to her work as “novels of voices, of the life of the sounds around you.”
Yet, at a time when reporters are the targets of assassinations and oppression not only in Russia but throughout the warring Middle East, at a time when journalists are forced to flee rather than to pursue their stories, her work transcends.
On June 5th, 2016, Irina Bokova, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, decried Organization, (UNESCO) deplored the killing of Osama Jumaa, a Syrian journalist killed in the battle for Aleppo. “I call on all parties in the conflict to respect the Geneva Conventions on the civilian status of journalists and their right to exercise their profession.”
Jumaa was killed when artillery fire hit an ambulance in which he was being treated for injuries he sustained earlier, while reporting on the bombing of a residential neighborhood for Images Live, a British photo agency.
The official figures to not take into account the dozens, possible hundreds of journalists jailed or killed by authorities in Libya, Egypt and Turkey, where the shuttering of media outlets has become routine.
International monitoring groups estimate that over a thousand chroniclers– professional or semi-professional journalists and reporters– have fled the country when threatened by targeted persecution and by the conflict’s overwhelming violence which can come from any quarter—the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, the air force bombings of his Russian allies, armed “opposition groups” and various extremist Islamic militias such as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra front of the Islamic State.
Many of them face constant difficulties and continue to fear for their safety in the countries in which they seek refuge. Syria’s borders are easily crossed not only by journalists fleeing violence but also by every kind of predator. Syrian journalists must also often cope with hostility from the authorities in these countries and the restrictions that local legislation imposes on them.
Last October, Ibrahim Abdul Qader and Fares Hamadi, both reporters, were found beheaded at the home of a mutual friend.
“Until the international community and warring sides do something serious to protect journalists,” Hisham says, “they are going to stay at risk. I myself am a refugee now, in a situation where I cannot do my job normally. Inside Syria, I had to work undercover for years.”