In Syria, the conflict has entered into its fourth year. Since March 2011, Bashar al-Asad has refused to heed the call of the Syrian people to step aside. He has directed a war against his own people, destabilized the region, and created a humanitarian catastrophe.
Syrian journalists and media activists are under constant threat on multiple fronts. The Asad regime has tortured and killed scores of journalists and continues to target them for detention, monitors and censors online activity, and blocks internet access. Non-state actors, including violent extremists, are also attempting to silence journalists through kidnapping, harassment, and killings.
Yet in the face of egregious abuses and violence, courageous Syrians continue their pursuit of justice and fundamental freedoms. Building on the momentum of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day activities, last week U.S. Embassy Paris organized an event at which I had the privilege of meeting with a group of Syrian journalists and media activists who continue to provide the invaluable service of getting information in and out of Syria. Despite the tremendous risk, these journalists and activists communicate regularly with independent media and civil society networks, so the world can hear what's happening inside Syria.
These Syrian journalists and activists are keen to focus the world’s attention on the many cases of detention, kidnapping, and killing of Syrian journalists, human rights advocates and media activists. We discussed the case of the on-going detention of staff from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression held by the regime, as well as the kidnapping of human rights activist, Razan Zaitouneh. As with so many of my meetings with Syrian civil society, every participant has a close colleague, friend, or relative who has risked and sometimes lost their life to collect the facts on the ground in Syria. Their brave determination and steadfast commitment in the face of such adversity sets an inspiring example for journalists around the world.
Our Free the Press campaign has been highlighting the perils and problems facing journalists from every region around the world. The United States is committed to promoting freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and journalist safety and security globally. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor funds 86 media programs, including programs that focus on investigative and conflict sensitivity reporting, civic engagement by youth through media, increasing diversity in the media sector, gender-sensitive media programming, and access to independent media in local languages. In addition, DRL’s SAFE Initiative provides state-of-the-art trainings to journalists on physical and digital security and psychosocial care through centers in San Salvador, El Salvador; Tbilisi, Georgia; and Nairobi, Kenya.
About the Author: Uzra Zeya serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) at the U.S. Department of State.