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Citizen journalists bear human cost of uprising

Five citizen journalists were killed in two days in Syria last month, cementing the country's position as the world's worst for journalists in 2012, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"This is another tragic reminder of the role that citizen journalists have played covering the conflict in Syria, including the documentation of horrific violence perpetrated against civilians," said CPJ.

"While the Syrian government's efforts to eliminate witnesses to its actions have failed, the cost to local and international journalists has been exceedingly high."

Three journalists who worked for the citizen news organisation Shaam News Network were killed on 27 May when security forces shelled the building where the news team was filming clashes between security forces and armed rebels in Damascus.

Shaam News Network, based in Damascus, has posted thousands of videos documenting the unrest in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. The network's footage has been used by international media groups like Al-Jazeera and the BBC, says CPJ.

According to CPJ, the three citizen journalists were: Ammar Mohamed Suhail Zado, the director of Shaam in Homs, Ahmed Adnan al-Ashlaq, a correspondent, and Lawrence Fahmy al-Naimi, the head of live streaming for the network.

Two more journalists were killed the next day. Bassel al-Shahade, a citizen journalist and filmmaker, along with Ahmed al-Assam, his cameraman, were filming the incursions by security forces in Homs when they were killed by government shelling on 28 May, according to CPJ. RSF reports al-Shadade was killed by a sniper.

According to the IFEX members, Al-Shahade was working on a film commemorating the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising. He had been studying film in the U.S., but took a leave of absence after the fall semester to return to Syria and cover the uprising, reports CPJ.

Al-Assam had produced a number of reports on the conflict, including one widely used by regional news outlets on the mass emigration of people from Homs, says CPJ.

IFEX members have documented numerous cases of foreign journalists being banned from Syria or harassed during the recent uprisings against Bashar al-Assad's regime. The authorities have accused them of being part of a global plot to cause chaos in the country, says RSF.

As such, news coverage has relied heavily on citizen journalists and local sources, who have provided an outlet for the revolution since the start of the uprising in March 2011, but have naturally become the hunted.

Take Mazen Darwish, the head of the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). He and four of his 15 colleagues who were arrested by Air Force Intelligence officers during a raid on the centre in February are still being held incommunicado, said RSF, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and other rights groups in a statement. The trial of eight of those arrested is scheduled for 25 June, they say.

The groups have been campaigning for the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, to visit Darwish and demand his release, as well as the others. "We have good reason to think his life is in danger because he suffers from serious ailments and his condition could worsen rapidly if he is not getting the treatment he needs," RSF appealed.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), PEN International WiPC and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) are calling for signatures on a joint appeal for SCM staff and other human rights defenders, bloggers, poets and writers detained incommunicado, some for the past year. Organisations interested in signing on should contact campaigns (@)

Foreign reporters who manage their way in are not immune to the attacks, warns RSF.

Last month, Brazilian journalist Klester Cavalcanti, entered the country legally with a visa but was arrested anyway on 19 May for unknown reasons. He spent six days in detention, reports RSF.

And British journalist Alex Thomson said he and his colleagues were deliberately led into a trap by rebels, allegedly so that they might be shot and killed by the Syrian army, reports RSF.

According to CPJ, at least nine local and international journalists have been killed on duty in Syria since November, at least six in circumstances that raise questions about government culpability.

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