NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) — The United Nations (UN) agency tasked with defending press freedom around the world on Thursday called on the Syrian government to launch an investigation into the deaths of five citizen journalists late last month.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), strongly condemned the killings. “[They were] citizen journalists who lost their lives while trying to inform the Syrian people of the tragic events taking place in their country,” she said.
Ammar Mohamed Zado, Ahmed Adnan Al-Ashlaq and Lawrence Fahmy Al-Naimi were working for citizen news organization Shaam News Network when they were killed on May 27 while filming clashes between security forces and armed rebels in Damascus, the capital of Syria. They were filming the clashes from a nearby apartment when the building was shelled by security forces.
The opposition and fellow Syrian journalists have suggested that security forces may have targeted the journalists because they were filming, but those allegations could not be independently confirmed. The Shaam News Network, which is based in Damascus, has released thousands of videos and photos documenting the unrest in the country. They are frequently used by international media organizations.
The following day, on May 28, freelance journalist Bassel al-Shahade and his cameraman Ahmed al-Assam were killed while filming incursions by security forces in the western city of Homs. Al-Shahade, a prominent filmmaker, was working on a film to commemorate the first anniversary of the uprising when a shell hit their car and killed them. Reports have suggested they too were targeted because they were filming.
“I call on the Syrian authorities to fully investigate the circumstances of their deaths,” Bokova said. “I also call on all parties involved in the present conflict to take all necessary steps to improve safety for all media workers in Syria, who are not only defending the right of the Syrian people to information and press freedom, but are also exercising their own right to freedom of expression, which is vital for all societies.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least fourteen local and international journalists have been killed on duty in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world. The organization believes at least thirteen of the deaths were work-related, while the investigation of a Al-Thawra and Radio Damascus journalist is still being investigated.
The crisis in Syria began in March 2011 as a pro-democracy protest movement, similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa. The Syrian government violently cracked down on the protests, setting off an armed conflict between pro-Assad forces and anti-government forces. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the violence.