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Citizen journalist sentenced to death for giving TV interview

A citizen journalist was sentenced to death last week in Syria after giving a series of interviews to Al Jazeera, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). To help protect sources, CPJ lists four precautions international journalists should take.

According to RSF, Mohammed Abdelmawla al-Hariri was charged with "high treason and contacts with foreign parties." He was arrested on 16 April after giving Al Jazeera TV an interview on the situation in his hometown, Deraa. He has reportedly been tortured after his arrest, resulting in partial paralysis.

The Syrian government has accused Al Jazeera and other foreign media outlets of being part of a global plot to cause chaos in the country, says RSF.

IFEX members have documented numerous cases of foreign journalists being banned from Syria during the recent uprisings against Bashar al-Assad's regime. As such, news coverage has relied heavily on citizen journalists and local sources, which have provided an outlet for the revolution since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

But the fledgling movement has been met with a sophisticated surveillance system, and contributors run the risk of being threatened, detained, tortured or even killed, the IFEX members say.

RSF lists Assad among 41 predators of freedom of information. Several media workers, citizen journalists and cyber-activists have been killed by the government since the start of the year, making Syria one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists in 2012 so far, says RSF.

According to CPJ, the regime's telecommunications surveillance is "remarkably extensive. Using equipment built in the West, the Syrian government censors the Internet, blocks websites and snoops on traffic."

CPJ adds that the regime also benefits from gathering intelligence like passwords and webcam activity on Syrian activists, by using malware spread through websites and even links innocuously left on Facebook pages and YouTube videos.

"It's incumbent on journalists to insist on secure communications when dealing with this exceptionally high-risk population. It's important to get the story out, but it's even more important to keep your sources safe," said Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writing for CPJ.

Galperin suggests the following best practices for international journalists communicating with sources and journalists inside Syria:

Check for malware on your computer and have your sources check for malware on theirs.
This blog post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes how to detect and remove one of the most common viruses in Syria, DarkComet RAT, which is not detectable by most anti-virus scans.

Beware of fake websites, strange downloads and suspicious links.
Always check the URL bar at the top of your browser when you are entering your login info to make sure you are not visiting a fake website. Be cautious about downloading documents or software over the Internet, even if it is purportedly coming from a friend.

Beware of phones.
Do not communicate over landlines or cell phones, including by text message.

Always use encryption.
Do not use Skype, which has a "number of security weaknesses." If you use Gmail, Yahoo! or another web-based e-mail client, connect using https; it helps to install the HTTPS Everywhere browser extension. Use PGP encryption for email. Use Adium and OTR (Off the Record) for encrypted messaging.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Related stories on ifex.org


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