Journalists are threatened, attacked, wounded, barrel-bombed or disappeared
The Syrian conflict does not only make headlines for the scourge of ISIS attacks and Assad’s atrocities, it also claimed the lives of brave journalists who were oblivious of dangers facing them just to report the brutalities of the Assad regime.
In her remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Journalists in Conflict Situations, US Permanent Representative to the UN, Samantha Power, reported that in the four-plus years since the Syrian conflict began, more than 80 journalists have been killed. At least 90 more have been abducted, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ.
In addition, countless more have been threatened, attacked, wounded, barrel-bombed or disappeared.
ISIL and Assad regime targeting journalists
According to Ms. Power, journalists have been targeted by both the Assad regime and violent extremist groups like ISIL, whose grotesque executions of journalists – alongside humanitarian aid workers, foreign soldiers, and people of different religions or political beliefs – seem aimed both at using their victims’ suffering as a recruiting tool, and at dissuading other journalists from covering the conflict.
One more thing is, the tactics seem to be working, as the videos of their executions are widely disseminated on social media. The abductions and killings of journalists has lessened the international and national coverage of the Syrian conflict
In addition, the Assad regime, ISIS, and other State and non-State actors like them that target journalists have something in common and that is they do not want people to see them for what they really are. However, the presence of journalists in Syria strips away the facade and shows the world what lies beneath.
Prominent journalists killed in Syrian Conflict
On 31 January 2015, Kenji Goto, a Japanese freelance video journalist, was beheaded by ISIS militants. The ISIS released a video which was uploaded to the internet, showing the beheaded body of Goto.
Goto was a 47 year old veteran war correspondent captured by the militants in October last year when he went to Syria as part of the effort to release Yukawa.
On 2 September 2014, Steven Joel Sotloff an American freelance photographer, was beheaded by ISIS militants. The killing contained the second message to America to stop airstrikes in Iraq.
The American journalist left the comfort of his own country to go to Syria to chronicle the stories of average people trapped in war.
Mr. Sotloff was a 31-year-old freelance journalist who disappeared after being abducted during a reporting trip to Syria in August 2013.
Mr. Sotloff grew up in South Florida with his mother, father and younger sister.
On 19 August 2014, James Wright Foley, an American freelance photographer, was beheaded by the extremist group ISIS and posted the brutal killing online. Prior to his execution, ISIS warned the White House they planned to kill Foley to avenge airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. The 40 year old journalist had been missing since he was abducted in Syria in 2012.
US Recommends crucial actions to protect journalists in conflict situation
Given the critical importance of press freedoms in disclosing truth and news, Ms. Power outlined these recommendations to protect journalists in conflict zones.
First, the international community must condemn the governments and non-State actors that attack journalists, as well as the overly restrictive laws and regulations that undermine their freedom.
Second, governments must give the journalists the tools they need to protect themselves, particularly working in conflict zones and repressive societies. To cite an example, the $100 million that the United States has invested in training more than 10,000 at-risk journalists and human rights defenders in digital safety, and in providing them with anti-censorship tools, is one example.
Third, governments must ensure that the people who attack journalists are actually held accountable for their crimes.
Finally, government must create programs to protect journalists operating in conflict zones, particularly those targeted for their work. Colombia for instance shows how this can be done. The National Protection Unit established by the government in 2011 is empowered to protect nineteen vulnerable groups, including journalists and human rights defenders.