Reporters Without Borders activists gathered outside the Syrian embassy in Paris at 11 a.m. today, World Press Freedom Day, to protest against the Syrian government’s crackdown on the media.
Chanting “Huriyat Al-Sahafa fi Suriya!” (Freedom of the press in Syria), the demonstrators threw buckets of blue paint at the embassy’s perimeter walls and used the paint to write: “It is ink that should flow, not blood.” Police detained 30 of the press freedom organization’s activists for a few hours.
“Syria is the country that worries us most at the moment,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “No one knows what is going on there. How many of the demonstrators have been killed? How many have been wounded? No one knows because journalists are being prevented from working. Foreign reporters cannot get visas to go there and local journalists are all being jailed or forced to remain silent.”
Julliard added: “Defending freedom of information in Syria above all means defending the Syrian people’s right to know what is going on in their own country. The government must end this news blackout. Acts of violence are almost certainly taking place at this very moment in Syria but nothing is being reported because the media are banned from going there. This is unacceptable.”
Reporters Without Borders hails the release of Khaled Sid Mohand, an Algerian journalist who had been detained in Syria. It shows that all the demonstrations on his behalf in France and Algeria paid off. Journalists nonetheless continue to be targeted in Syria, as they have been since the start of the wave of protests there. Arrests, physical attacks and deportations are all being used to ensure a complete news blackout.
The crackdown is continuing. Yesterday, the Syrian writer and journalist Omar Koush was arrested on arrival at Damascus airport after participating in a conference in Turkey, while Al-Jazeera announced that it had lost contact with one of its journalists, Dorothy Parvaz (who has US, Canadian and Iranian citizenship), since her arrival in Damascus on 29 April. Al-Jazeera previously announced on 27 April that it was suspending all activities throughout Syria until further notice because of the many threats and acts of intimidation against its crews.
Three other journalists are currently known to be held by the Syrian authorities. They are Fayez Sara, a Syrian journalist and writer who was arrested on 11 April; Mohamed Zaid Mistou, a Norwegian journalist of Syrian origin, who was arrested on 7 April; and Kamal Sheikhou, a Syrian blogger who was arrested on 15 March.
At the same time, there has been no news of the journalists Akram Abu Safi and Sobhie Naeem Al-Assal since 24 March.
As part of its actions marking World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders today released the 2011 version of its list of Press Freedom Predators, this one with 38 heads of state and warlords who sow terror in the media. The most important changes in this year’s list have been in North Africa and the Middle East, where dramatic and sometimes tragic events have taken place in recent months.