Syrian journalist would face deadly reprisals if deported, RSF warns Turkey
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities not to expel a Syrian exile journalist currently detained in Turkey over a humorous video, because his repatriation would expose him to extremely serious and probably deadly reprisals at the hands of the Syrian authorities.
Majed Shama, a journalist working for the Syrian exile TV channel Orient News, as just a harmless joke. Shama was arrested on 30 October on a charge of “inciting hatred” against Turks and is now threatened with expulsion.
To make fun of this claim, many Syrians responded by sharing videos of themselves eating bananas. Shama also made a video of himself for Orient News in which he pretends to hide the bananas he buys on the street before eating one in theatrically surreptitious manner.
One of the leaders of the Turkish nationalist İyi Party immediately reacted with a tweet saying: “All of the activities of @OrientNews, which is responsible for this scandal, must be stopped as quickly as possible.” She also claimed that Orient News was manipulated by the United Arab Emirates, where its main headquarters is located.
RSF has been told that Shama was forced to sign a document that forces him to leave Turkey. His lawyer has been waiting for nearly a week in order to file an appeal challenging the document’s validity but the head of the immigration department has so far refused to release it. Nonetheless, Shama could meanwhile be expelled without warning at any moment.
“We point out that expelling a Syrian citizen from Turkey would violate the principle of non-refoulement,” said Erol Onderoglu, RSF’s representative in Turkey. “Under this principle of international law, no refugee may be sent back to a country where their life would be in danger.”
Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, added: “Orient News, a TV channel linked to the Syrian opposition, is banned by the authorities in Damascus. If Majed Shama were sent back to Syria, he would be exposed to serious reprisals that would almost certainly cost him his life because of his activities.”
Regardless of the region to which he were deported, Shama’s ability to practice journalism and use the freedom of expression he has enjoyed in Turkey would be heavily impacted. If he were deported to areas controlled by Turkish-backed forces (such as the Syrian National Army), he would be harassed if he expressed views critical of Turkish policy in the region. If he were expelled via the border crossing in the far south of Turkey at Kassab, which is controlled by the Syrian government, he would be delivered directly to the Syrian authorities.
In August 2019, RSF voiced alarm about Turkish plans to send Syrian refugee journalists back to Syria on the grounds that the deadline for them to regularise their status had expired. The authorities finally backed down and allowed them to stay.
Turkey is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index while Syria is ranked 173rd.