Free Syrian Army commander Riyad Al Asaad
Syrian National Council president Abdel Basset Sayda
cc: "Friends of Syria"
Paris, 14 August 2012
Subject: Increasingly frequent attacks on government media and their staff
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to share with you its deep concern about the growing number of acts of violence against Syrian journalists, including government and pro-government journalists.
As you undoubtedly know, our organization has been drawing attention to the Assad family's tight grip on news and information in Syria for the past two decades. And we have been forcefully condemning the attacks on foreign and local journalists, both professional and netizen, by the Assad regime's troops and militias since the start of the uprising in March 2011.
We have also been providing moral and material support to those who have been trying to do their duty as news providers to break down the regime's media blockade. We have repeatedly alerted the international community to the massive scale of human rights violations in Syria, especially the level of censorship imposed by the authorities.
However, our organization has also unfortunately been registering a growing number of violations of freedom of information by the anti-government forces in recent weeks. The employees of Syria's pro-government media are becoming the targets of abduction and murder with increasing frequency.
The Islamist group Al-Nosra announced on 3 August that it had executed Mohammad Al Saeed, a TV presenter who was kidnapped from his home in mid-July. Syrian government TV cameraman Talal Janbakeli was kidnapped in Damascus on 5 August by the Free Syrian Army's Haroun Al-Rasheed militia.
A crew working for Al-Ikhbariya, a privately-owned pro-government TV station, was captured by another FSA unit on 10 August. According to the information currently available, one of its members is now dead, while his colleagues have been forced to make on-camera "confessions." Ali Abbas, a journalist with the government news agency Sana, was killed at his home in the Damascus suburb of Jdaidet Artouz on 11 August. The premises of several government or pro-government media have also been the targets of bombings since late June.
Several foreign journalists have told us they were the targets of death threats from opposition groups. Some were kidnapped by small jihadist groups. Such practices sadly resemble those used by the Assad regime against opposition journalists.
We are aware of the Syrian opposition's diversity. However, we call on you, as the overall leaders of its main components, to publicly condemn these abuses and to carry out the necessary investigations.
Your current status as a belligerent, and your desire to facilitate a transition in Syria, require you to respect international law and to impose it on the various opposition forces, civilian and military. International conventions and regulations, including UN Security Council Resolution 1738, require all parties to a war to protect journalists.
We strongly condemn the publication or broadcasting of propaganda messages inciting hatred or violence against the civilian population. Nonetheless, neither professional nor netizen journalists should ever be targeted. Their physical integrity and dignity should be respected in order to protect freedom of information itself.
The FSA and other components of the opposition must immediately and unconditionally release the journalists and media workers they are holding, including the Al-Ikhbariya crew members captured on 10 August. They must also immediately stop filming statements extracted under duress, a degrading practice to which many detained journalists have been subjected.
Such behaviour is not only a violation of human rights and your international responsibilities but is also counter-productive, as it can only damage the Syrian opposition's image in the eyes of the public and its international supporters.
I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.
Reporters Without Borders director-general