Geneva - Ruling authorities in opposition-controlled areas of northern Syria must protect civil rights and media activists, especially considering the escalation of individuals being targeted for their participation in completely legitimate activities, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.
The most recent victim of insecurity in these areas was media activist Muhammad Abdul Latif, nicknamed “Abo Ghanoum”. Gunmen assassinated Abdul Latif and his pregnant wife last Friday, in the Syrian city of al-Bab in Aleppo’s northeastern countryside. According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen were in a vehicle when they opened fire on the couple, who were riding a motorcycle near the city’s automated bakery; the attack resulted in their immediate death.
Euro-Med Monitor followed local reports published on Monday stating that the Syrian National Army’s Third Corps arrested members of a cell suspected of carrying out the attack using surveillance camera footage and eyewitness accounts. However, it is not yet possible to verify the accuracy of the allegations, particularly given both parties’ previously demonstrated failure to follow due process in such cases.
According to reports, the assassination suspects are members of the “al-Hamza” militia, an armed opposition group. As Third Corps forces launched an attack on the militia’s headquarters in al-Bab at dawn on Tuesday and took control of it, clashes spread to the neighbouring city of Bizaah, threatening civilian security and safety, given the proximity of involved military sites to densely populated areas.
Abdul Latif was a prominent media activist in northern Syria’s opposition-controlled areas. He was well-known for his consistent involvement in and organisation of various political events and protests and had publicly criticised local authorities’ handling of a variety of administrative and living issues, as well as some security practices.
Civilian activists including journalists and opinion holders are increasingly subject to illegal attacks and harassment, despite and because of their legitimate activities. Since there are multiple forces of influence and the influence of local security and judicial institutions is weak, those involved in the attacks are rarely held accountable.
Euro-Med Monitor reported in early August that a group of activists and journalists were attacked by police officers while covering protests in al-Bab city’s medical sector. On 5 August, military police detained media activist Loay Younis for three days before releasing him due to public pressure.
In addition, a member of the military police in the city of Afrin threatened and beat media personnel Hadi Tatin and Khaled Abu al-Huda on 3 October. A day later, while covering teacher protests in al-Bab city, journalist Siraj al-Shami was attacked by an unknown individual. These incidents are the latest in a long line of grave violations committed by conflict parties against Syrian journalists, which has resulted in the deaths of over 700 of them between March 2011 and the middle of this year.
The lack of legal oversight regarding the parties’ practices has provided an implicit cover for them to continue acting without consideration for possible consequences, and with complete disregard for international law rules that guarantee freedom of opinion and expression and the protection of journalists from prosecution and attack.
Ruling authorities must conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the assassination of activist Abdul Latif and his wife, follow due legal process while doing so, arrest the accused, and bring them to a fair trial that guarantees justice, as well as investigate all similar incidents and work to control the security situation and provide security and protection for civilians.
Parties to the conflict in Syria should stop targeting journalists, release those who are being detained, and ensure that journalists can do their jobs freely and without threats or restrictions. The relevant United Nations bodies should take effective measures to ensure the principle of accountability, and end the policy of impunity for crimes against journalists, as this is a necessary step to protect their safety and freedom of work.