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As fighting escalates, citizen journalists bear heavy cost

Journalists leave a road leading to the national security building after access to the area was blocked in Damascus on 18 July 2012
Journalists leave a road leading to the national security building after access to the area was blocked in Damascus on 18 July 2012

REUTERS/Khaled Al Hariri

(RSF/IFEX) - 12 July 2012 - Reporters Without Borders is deeply saddened to learn of the murder of two more citizen journalists. Confirmation has also been received of the deaths of three others, of whom at least one lost his life in the course of journalistic activity. Suhaib Dib was the victim of a targeted killing by the security forces in the Damascus suburb of Al-Meliha on 4 July. Although still a secondary school student, he was one of the city's most energetic activists, and was always circulating news reports and content about the uprising and the government crackdown.

Omar Al-Ghantawi, 19, was killed by a sniper while filming the shelling of the districts of Jobar and Al-Sultaniyeh in Homs on 21 June. He had given up his job as a mobile phone technician in order to cover the revolution and had shot hundreds of photos and videos documenting the Assad regime's atrocities.

Ghantawi was previously shot and wounded in the chest by a sniper after tearing down a poster of the late President Hafez Al-Assad, the father of the current dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, in the district of Baba Amr. After being confined to bed for three months, he had resumed filming as soon as he recovered.

Reporters Without Borders has been able to confirm that Ghias Khaled Al-Hmouria was shot dead while filming an operation by the rebel Free Syrian Army in the Damascus suburb of Douma on 25 June.

The deaths of citizen journalist Mohamed Hamdo Hallaq during the shelling of Azaz, a town to the north of Aleppo, on 2 July and citizen journalist Samer Khalil Al-Sataleh during the shelling of Douma on 28 June have also been confirmed but Reporters Without Borders has not yet been able to establish the exact circumstances.

Release

Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Abderahman Matar, a reporter for the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, was released on 9 July after being held for a month. Anti-government sources said he was arrested because of his coverage. He was reportedly accused of publishing false information, undermining national sentiment, attacking the government's image and participating in unauthorized demonstrations.

Matar's release should not eclipse the fact that dozens of other professional and citizen journalists continue to languish in Syrian jails. They include the blogger Hussein Ghreir, who was arrested along with 15 other activists during a raid on the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression on 18 February.

According to Front Line Defenders, he recently began a hunger strike in protest against the fact that the authorities continue to hold him incommunicado.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the professional and citizen journalists held
in Syria and points out that the Syrian authorities undertook to release all political detainees under Kofi Annan's peace plan.
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