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October 15, 2019 - Updated on October 22, 2019

Northeastern Syria turning into news black hole

Journalists at Semalka Border Crossing, October 14. (Photo: Hejar Seyid)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is very concerned about local journalists still in Kurdish northeastern Syria, which many reporters have fled since 13 October when two were killed by a Turkish bombardment. RSF calls on all belligerents to respect their international obligations to protect the media in the region, where the security situation continues to worsen and which could become another black hole for news and information.

The many journalists who have fled the region since 13 October include BBC correspondent Feras Kilani, who reports that he has gone to Iraqi Kurdistan. The collapse in the security situation in Syrian Kurdistan is due to a Turkish offensive and now a counter-offensive by the Syrian government, which has begun deploying its forces in the northeast after reaching an accord with the local Kurdish authorities.

 

Saad Ahmad, a reporter for the Kurdish news agency Hawar News (ANHA), and Mohamed Hossien Rasho, a reporter for Çira TV, a Kurdish TV station based in Germany, were killed when Turkish forces bombarded a convoy of civilians accompanied by Kurdish soldiers and journalists near Ras Al-Ayn (Serekaniye) on 13 October, killing and injuring dozens of people.

 

The convoy had set off from Qamishli with the aim of attending a protest in Ras Al-Ayn against the Turkish incursion. The Union of Syrian Kurdish Journalists told RSF that at least eight other journalists were injured. All were local journalists working for regional media outlets such as the Kurdish news agencies Hawar News and Firat News (ANF), the Syrian news agency North Press Agency (NPA), the Kurdish TV channel Sterk TV and the Iraqi Kurdish TV channel Rudaw.

 

“Northeastern Syria is liable to lose its journalists and become a black hole for news and information if the Turkish and Syrian authorities do not do everything possible to guarantee their safety and allow them to work,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Any attack on journalists is strictly prohibited under international law, which requires belligerents to protect media personnel along with humanitarian personnel and all other civilians.”

 

A France 2 TV crew consisting of Stéphanie Perez, Nicolas Auer and Yan Kadouch was at the back of the civilian convoy targeted by Turkish forces on 13 October, but none of them was injured.

 

The Internet was meanwhile temporarily disconnected in northeastern Syrian in the night of 13 October, making it even harder to access news and information, according to the Rojava Information Centre.

 

In response to the increase in risks for journalists, RSF calls on media outlets to take all necessary measures to ensure the best possible level of protection and urges those going to the region to consult its Safety Guide for Journalists, which is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

 

Syria is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, while Turkey is ranked 157th.