Journalists in Turkish-controlled N. Syria face intimidation, insecurity – report

The Turkish zone of influence in northern Syria poses a high level of insecurity, restrictions and abuses for journalists, UK-based non-profit Index of Censorship reported.

Two journalists in Jarabulus were arrested in March by the local Turkish-backed security intelligence, the article pointed out, citing the Violation Documentation Center, a network of Syrian opposition activists who document human rights violations perpetrated since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Stating that the region is “closed to the media except for those licensed by Turkey, and closed to local and international human rights organisations,” the network said that “Journalists and activists in these areas are also subjected to restrictions and abuses that amount to killing, kidnapping and torture.”

Northern Syria, which is divided between the two factions of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a former Al Qaeda-affiliated group based in the northwest, and Turkish backed rebel groups, is witnessing both sides control the flow of news out of the regions by limiting access to certain areas, making threats or, in some cases, kidnapping journalists, the article said.

The de facto Turkish-backed rebel authorities harass journalists who are critical to the forces in control of the Euphrates shield area, a photographer who works in the northeast and requested anonymity told Index on Censorship.

“I was kidnapped in front of my house, pushed into a van, struck on the head and woke up handcuffed in a cell,” the activist said, while explaining an incident that took place after filming in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, which was seized by Turkish forces in March of 2018.

Because the photographer was a journalist working for a foreign media outlet, the rebels interrogated him with the same techniques that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s intelligence service had used, which he had experienced previously in 2012.

“They threatened to murder me and my family,” he said.

During his five-week detention, more journalists and other individuals were brought into the jail. “I could hear the voices of people being tortured, and the moaning of the prisoners,” he explained.

He was finally released without charge and was told they would break his camera if they saw him filming again.

Another journalist who asked to remain anonymous, told Index on Censorship that since arriving in Al-Bab, “life has been tough and risky.”

Journalists often face trouble in the city, whether from militants or security services, who, much like the local authorities, do not care for critical coverage towards them or their funders, the article said.

Large protests erupted in Al-Bab against the endemic corruption of the Turkish-backed authorities in February of this year and journalists covering the demonstrations came under direct threat, the article said.

The freelance journalist, which spoke to Index on Censorship, said that he survived an assassination attempt after being threatened for his reporting.

“I wanted to do interviews for a news agency I work with. However, when I raised questions about Turkey’s negative impact on Al-Bab with the protesters, some refused to talk, fearing persecution if they were caught talking badly about Turkey,” he said.