Human Rights

World Press Freedom Day: Journalists Continue to Be Targeted in Conflicts Across the Middle East

Middle East

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), well over 100 journalists have died in Syria since the conflict began over six years ago.

With World Press Freedom Day just passed, it is important to reflect on the crucial work of journalists. In the Middle East and around the world, reporters continue to be targeted for telling their stories. Both extremist groups and autocratic regimes alike fear being exposed by the press, and have consistently done everything they can to stifle independent journalism.

Recently in Kabul, correspondents gathered to report on a suicide bombing. 15 minutes after the blast, a second bomber disguised as a journalist targeted them, killing nine mostly local photographers and journalists. On the same day, in Khost, 29-year-old reporter Ahmad Shah was murdered by two masked gunmen on a motorbike. ISIS claimed responsibility for all of the attacks.

ISIS is particularly well known for this and was infamous for capturing and murdering reporters. This was an attempt not only to scare ordinary people, but to intimidate journalists everywhere. Ultimately, this failed, and we now know the reality of life under ISIS thanks to people willing to risk their lives to report the facts.

In Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), over 100 journalists have been killed since the conflict began in 2011. Reporters Without Borders even puts this figure at over 200 when including citizen journalists who were killed over the course of the war. Some were killed by crossfire whilst reporting from warzones, but others have been deliberately targeted by either radical extremists or the Assad regime.

Ahmed Mohamed al-Mousa, working for the news site Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, was murdered by ISIS in 2015 for reporting on their abuses. Khaled al-Essa, a popular Syrian journalist, died in 2016 from wounds inflicted by an explosive device hidden behind a door in his Aleppo home. The explosive device was widely thought to have been planted by militants belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra, the former Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria now part of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham. Abdul Rahman Ismael Yassin, a reporter for the pro-Opposition Hammouriyeh Media Office, died after being hit by a targeted airstrike in February this year. These three relatively recent examples provide just a snapshot of the dangers reporters can face on a day-to-day basis.

Journalism is essential for a fair and just society; some governments – and certainly most militant groups – refuse to accept criticism or a free press. But it is thanks to the press that we know about the atrocities committed by ISIS, the use of chemical weapons by Assad, the war in Yemen and so much more.

Despite attempts to silence journalists, it is clear that they are needed more than ever before.

Image: Al Jazeera