July 1, 2020 - Updated on July 7, 2020

Syrian journalist threatened by Assad supporters in Kuala Lumpur

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned for the safety of a Syrian journalist living in self-imposed exile in Malaysia who is being threatened by Syrian activists loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and who, at the same time, is facing possible expulsion because he cannot renew his expired residence permit.

Sam Alebrahim used to be an independent journalist based in Deraa, in southern Syria. When he fled to Malaysia in 2016 after being injured in a Russian bombardment while out reporting, he never imagined he would one day have to fear for his safety again, to the point of no longer daring to leave his home.


Alebrahim obtained an initial visa in 2016 that allowed him to take up residence in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in order to resume studying journalism and to keep writing, especially about the battle of East Ghouta, which continued to rage until 2018.


However, Kuala Lumpur has a sizeable Syrian community, where Alebrahim’s reporting has not gone unnoticed and, in particular, has annoyed the local branch of the pro-government National Union of Syrian Students, whose members behave like “shabiha,” the armed volunteers in Syria who threaten and persecute those opposed to Assad.


Alebrahim was attacked in the street and was forced to change his place of residence three times. Then he received a photo of his street door on WhatsApp accompanied by the words: “just so you know we are very, very close to you, traitor.”


Alebrahim’s fears are not limited to physical threats. He needs a valid passport in order to renew his residence permit, but both his Malaysian visa and his passport expired nearly a year ago and the Syrian embassy refuses to give him a new passport because of his journalistic activities. So now he fears not only deadly physical violence but also the possibility of being arrested and deported.


“We are very concerned for the safety of Sam Alebrahim and about the fact that his situation has been aggravated by the impossibility of renewing his residence permit,” said RSF’s Middle East desk.


“It’s a double penalty to flee far from his country only to be threatened again. His case shows that the intimidatory techniques to which he was subjected in Syria reach far beyond its borders. The processing of his asylum application needs to be accelerated as a matter of urgency and, at the same time, the Malaysian authorities must do everything necessary to protect him.”


Syria is ranked 174th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.