October 5, 2017

RSF urges Turkish authorities to protect Syrian journalists

Orouba and Halla Barakat, Orouba's Facebook page
Two weeks after a journalist with US and Syrian dual nationality, and her mother, a well-known Syrian dissident and former journalist, were murdered in Istanbul, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities to do everything possible to bring those responsible to justice.

The bodies of Halla Barakat and her mother Orouba were found in their Istanbul apartment on the night of 21 September. A relative was arrested as a suspect shortly afterwards but has not yet been formally questioned or brought before prosecutors.

“At this stage, we urge the Turkish authorities to handle this sensitive case in a transparent manner, to shed all possible light on this double murder and to do everything possible to bring those responsible to justice,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

“This is not just about rendering justice to the family of the victims but also about more effectively combatting impunity for the crimes of violence against Syrian journalists in Turkey since 2015.”

The Syrian community in Turkey is following the case very closely as it has fuelled fears that other members of the community could meet the same fate because of their political or journalistic activities.

Orouba Barakat’s sister has said on social networks that the double murder must have been carried out on orders from Damascus. According to Turkish media outlets, her brother, Maen Barakat, told the police that, shortly before her death, Orouba received threatening phone calls from persons claiming to be members of Islamic State.

Halla Barakat worked as journalist for the Syrian opposition TV channel, Orient TV, and its website and was about to start working for Montada Al-Sharq (Al Sharq Forum), a news website. She had also worked for the English-language channel operated by the Turkish public TV broadcaster, TRT.

Her mother, who no longer worked as a journalist, was a well-known Syrian opposition activist and was a member of the Syrian National Council before it joined the Syrian National Coalition it 2012. She had been planning to create a group that would help Syrian women arriving in Turkey who had been the victims of oppression and violence.

At least three other Syrian refugee journalists have been murdered in Turkey in unclear circumstances since 2015. The first was Naji Jerf, who was gunned down in broad daylight in the southeastern city of Gaziantep in December 2015. In June of this year, an Islamic State member was given life sentence for his murder but his family was not able to be represented at the trial.

Ibrahim Abdelqader was murdered together with a friend, Fares Hammadi, in the nearby city of Urfa in October 2015. And Mohamed Zaher al-Sherqat was murdered in Gaziantep in April 2016.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.