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Turkish court convicts ISIS member of Syrian journalist's murder in 2015

Two Syrian refugees walk along a fence in the Nizip refugee camp, near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, 30 November 2016
Two Syrian refugees walk along a fence in the Nizip refugee camp, near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, 30 November 2016

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

This statement was originally published on on 12 June 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has learned that a court in Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, has just convicted a member of Islamic State of murdering Syrian journalist Naji Jerf in Gaziantep in December 2015.

The court passed two life sentences on Yusef Hamed Al-Shefreihi on 9 June 2017, one for Naji Jerf's murder and one for "trying to overthrow the constitutional order" by joining Islamic State. Three other suspects were acquitted of Jerf's murder for lack of evidence.

The trial, which began on 5 October 2016, was held behind closed doors. Jerf's family, who are refugees in France, were not represented by a lawyer, relative or representative of any Syrian organization. So the family had no direct access to the case and was only able to follow it through Turkish media reports.

"Although this verdict constitutes a first step in rendering justice for this murdered journalist, we condemn the failure to involve the family in the trial," said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF's Middle East desk.

"As a result of the trial being held behind closed doors, many questions have been left unanswered, including the motive for the murder, how it was carried out, the convicted murderer's profile and the possible involvement of other individuals."

A documentary filmmaker and editor of the monthly magazine Henta, Jerf was gunned down on a Gaziantep street on 27 December 2015, shortly before he and his family were due to have flown to France because of the threats he had received in Turkey.

Originally from Salamiyah, in the Syrian province of Hama, Jerf fled Syria in late 2012 after his office was ransacked but continued his journalistic activities after basing himself in Gaziantep.

The threats against Jerf resumed in Turkey and increased in the course of 2015 because of his coverage of atrocities by Islamic State. His film ISIL in Aleppo, which documented Islamic State's execution of many Syrian activists, was released in November 2015.

Jerf was also in contact with Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a citizen-journalist collective whose members were being pursued by Islamic State, which declared them to be "enemies of God."

RSF has registered other Islamic State attacks on Syrian journalists in southeastern Turkey. IS claimed responsibility for TV presenter Zaher al-Sherqat's murder in Gaziantep in April 2016 and citizen-journalist Ibrahim Abdelqader's murder in Sanliurfa in October 2015.

Abdelqader's brother Ahmed Abdelqader escaped several murder attempts in Sanliurfa, the last in June 2016. Four months later, he found refuge in France, where he is now working for the Ain Ala al Watan news website.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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