February 10, 2014
On January 7th, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights announced it would stop tracking the number of people killed in the Syrian conflict, citing the escalating obstacles preventing independent verification of casualty totals, particularly as journalists and activists are targeted for kidnapping and assassination by both government institutions and Islamist rebel groups.
In the absence of an international body to monitor the toll, the media increasingly relies upon the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ figures, which currently claim more than 130,000 people have been killed since March 2011
The inability to tally casualty figures was set back further in December, when prominent activist Razan Zeitouneh was kidnapped. At the time, rumors circulated that extremist Islamist groups, specifically ISIS, had kidnapped the internationally renowned human rights lawyer, whose pro-opposition Violations Documentation Center tracks both deaths and other violations.
Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali spoke with Tasneem, a spokeswoman for a pro-opposition Syrian news network in Damascus, the Independent Syrian Media, about the threats she faces as an activist and the burdens on remaining activists now that so many have been killed, kidnapped or have fled.
Q: How have the targetings of activists affected the documentation of events in Syria?
It has helped the regime and other groups who want to work in a closed-off environment where these crimes won’t be exposed or covered by the media. I think that there is now an even greater burden on the remaining activists because there are simply fewer on the ground. This might turn the scales in favor of the killers because the criminal regime is intent on quieting the most important component of the revolution, which are the media and activists on the ground.
The founder of the Kafr Nabl Media Center, Raed Fares, hours after an assassination attempt in January. Photo courtesy of Syria is Here.
Q: Are you scared now that you have heard of activists repeatedly being targeted?
Yes, of course I am more afraid. First of all, since I know that the regime doesn’t distinguish between men, women and children, men and women are targeted equally. Believe me, the punishment for women is exactly the same as for men. And you should know that any woman who is a journalist, woe unto her if she falls into the hands of the security forces. Despite all this, the perseverance and patience of the Syrian people increases our resolution and our trust in God. We ask God to grant us and all activists safety, as the truth is costly and we, God willing, will continue on the path towards the truth, no matter how difficult it gets. Until now, the Syrian people, with their patience and perseverance, are the greatest motivation for our determination.
Q: As a civilian activist and journalist, have you been threatened by the regime or any armed groups?
We always face threats, and as I mentioned, Assad and his gangs have focused on discovering where we are located, as if we were the most important players in the revolution. We always try to avoid mistakes some of the other activists make, such as gathering in exposed and public places or being impatient when it comes to waiting until fighting has ceased. We try to stay out of eyesight and gather in private places.
We are also careful not to publish our names and locations, and we try to stay away from the treacheries of the regime and avoid people working for the regime and its spies. But we always get emails and text messages from the security forces threatening us for the work we do as journalists. We try to take as many precautions as possible.
Q: Do any brigades of the Free Syrian Army, Islamic groups or ISIS target activists?
ISIS has come onto the scene recently but they haven’t been stopping the regime, as they claim. Rather, they have been fighting and killing members of the Free Syrian Army and taking control of liberated regions. However, what has really angered us is the killing of activists who are murdered for exposing the crimes against us in order to hide these human rights abuses, since that is exactly what the regime is doing.
Q: Why have activists been targeted so heavily as of late?
Firstly, to hide the crimes that are happening in Syria at the moment. Secondly, because exposing the crimes of a murderer is a very dangerous weapon right now. These activists have an important role in shaping public opinion with respect to what is happening in Syria and exposing the extent of the lies and cover-ups by the criminal regime.