Emergency in southwest Syria: UN asked to protect dozens of journalists in danger

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is asking the United Nations and neighbouring countries to lose no time in guaranteeing the safety of several dozen journalists who have been exposed to extremely grave danger by the Syrian army’s advance on the demilitarized Quneitra region on the Israel border.

Because of the particularly alarming situation of these journalists, who have been trapped in this southwestern part of Syria since the regime’s army retook the Deraa region, RSF has asked UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and the authorities of the countries that could receive the endangered journalists to take all necessary measures to guarantee their safety and protection.

A list of 69 journalists in grave danger in Quneitra and Deraa has been compiled by the journalists themselves. They are journalists working for the Syrian TV channels Orient News, Syria TV, Al Jisr TV and Halab Today TV, employees of the international news agencies AFP and Reuters, and correspondents of local news networks and organizations such as Yaqeen, Shahed and Nabaa. The Syrian Journalist Association (SJA) has also compiled a list of dozens of other media workers and bloggers who are similarly threatened.

Some of these journalists have told RSF they fear being executed or imprisoned as soon as the Syrian government controls the entire province. The regime’s persecution of journalists for more than seven years justifies their fears, especially as many of them have covered the uprising since the outset and have helped to document the regime’s human rights violations. As they are identified with the opposition, they risk being subjected to particularly severe reprisals.

In a letter to the UN secretary-general on 11 July, that is being kept confidential for the time being in order to protect the journalists concerned, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “A humanitarian corridor or discreet access to a territory at peace in one of the adjoining countries is among the possible options.”

RSF has also written to the Israeli and Jordanian prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Omar Razzaz, asking them to receive these journalists in their countries as soon as possible.

“Every hour counts for these dozens of Syrian journalists whose lives are now in danger,” Deloire said. “We alert the international community to the extreme urgency of this situation. We remind the parties to the conflict, especially the Syrian government, that under international law, they are responsible for the safety of journalists. We ask the United Nations and the countries adjoining Syria to organize their evacuation as quickly as possible, and we ask the countries in which the journalists would like to seek refuge to accept them.”

Syria continued to be the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in 2017 and is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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