This profile refers to journalists, other media professionals and bloggers and their situation in relation to potential targeting by different actors in Syria.
[Main COI reference: Targeting, 7]
Journalists were targeted by all the parties involved in the conflict in Syria and faced physical danger in the whole country. There were reports of threats, abductions, imprisonments, torture and killings of journalists. Their safety was jeopardised because of direct targeting and/or as a result of the violence while covering the fighting, including ‘double-tap’ attacks. Freedom of press was reported to be restricted, journalists faced censorship and very few of the new Syrian media that were created by citizen journalists have survived. Even though in 2018 and 2019 there was a decrease of human rights violations against journalists, Syria continued to rank as one of the two deadliest countries worldwide for the media.
a. Targeting by government forces and affiliated armed groups
The GoS has been the main actor committing violations against media and media personnel. As SNHR noted in a May 2019 report, ‘the Syrian regime and its security services became even more lethally brutal and oppressive towards any independent press and media covering events in the country’. SNHR further stated that ‘violations were multiple, intensive, widespread and clear’. Local journalists were targeted because of their collaboration with international journalists and media outlets. Journalists were targeted by snipers, arrested, detained without trial, tortured and forcibly disappeared. The GoS also attempted to discredit them, by undermining the credibility of their reports and statements.
GoS arrested most of the citizen journalists in the areas with which it had entered into settlement processes, while other journalists in Dar’a had to evacuate after they refused reconciliation with GoS, in fear of being targeted by government forces.
Citizen journalists and media workers were also in danger in areas that are not under the control of GoS, since they are part of the civilian population that was targeted by ‘double-tap’ aerial and artillery bombings.
Journalists that were loyal to the GoS were also targeted, as a result of a struggle for power centres that formed within the regime over the course of the war.
b. Targeting by the SDF/YPG
SDF supressed the freedom of press, particularly when opposing the SDF’s policies. Intimidation, and a large number of arrests, forced disappearances and torture of citizen journalists criticising the regime of the SDF was documented.
There were reports concerning the second half of 2017 that journalist and activists that reported on human rights violations committed by SDF were subjected to intimidation and arbitrary arrests in Raqqa, Tall Abyad and Tabqa.
c. Targeting by the SNA
FSA-affiliated groups, after taking over an area, repeatedly proceeded to arbitrary arrests and detentions of different individuals, including journalists. One source also reported that citizen journalists were harassed, extorted, intimidated, detained and tortured by armed opposition groups.
d. Targeting by HTS
There is less reporting out of Idlib governorate because the former proliferation of free activist media outlets has been increasingly clamped down on by HTS. HTS arbitrarily arrested, kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured journalists, when perceived to be violating the Islamic law (Sharia) or to oppose or criticise its rule. Citizen journalists were also killed, as they were perceived as a threat to its ideology and policies.
e. Targeting by ISIL
ISIL seized thousands of individuals, including journalists, whose fate remains unknown. Citizen journalists were also pursued, arrested, threatened with torture and death, terrorised and forced to promote ISIL ideology and propaganda. Reports on this were published in 2019, however, without specifying the time in which the events took place. Other sources indicated that in 2018 ISIL was no longer among the actors targeting the media and media personnel in Syria [see also Targeting, 7.1].
The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. killing, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, kidnapping, torture, forced disappearance).
In the case of journalists who are seen as critical by the actor in control of the particular area, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated.
In the case of other journalists, not all individuals would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: the topic they report on, regional aspects (reach of the actors they report on), visibility, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is for reasons of (imputed) political opinion. In the case of persecution by extremist groups such as the HTS it may also be for reasons of religion.