For nearly a year now, journalists from the FRANCE 24 Observers team have been in daily contact with citizen journalists in Syria, in particular in the flashpoint city of Homs. Until a few weeks ago, dozens of them were constantly on Skype, sending us videos of violent crackdowns on protesters that they took great risks to film. But today, due to Internet outages, the vast majority of them are offline. The few that we are able to reach tell us that, for the first time since the beginning of the uprising, no one is out filming.
The reason: Baba Amr, the neighbourhood at the heart of the action, has been under constant shelling for the past three weeks, and it’s finally reached a point where even the most adventurous of camera-wielding activists won’t dare go outside. Thursday, only a few videos filmed indoors, showing injured persons, were shared online.
"Today, it's just too dangerous to go out and film - more than ever before"
“We’ve lost so many friends,” says Omar Shakir (not his real name), an activist we were able to reach today thanks to his satellite connection. “Three cameramen I knew have been killed, and over a dozen injured. Some were injured more than once, but they kept going out to film, despite everything. But today, it’s just too dangerous – more than ever before.”
Even when activists do manage to film videos, it’s becoming difficult to get them out into the world. “With the power out, there are fewer people putting videos online,” says activist Khaled Abu Salah (not his real name). Some activists rely on generators, but the fuel needed to power them is scarce. And right now, there are other priorities: “Instead [of filming], activists are trying to help the doctors treat the wounded and helping get basic necessities to the people,” Salah says.
More and more citizen journalists are getting killed
Tuesday, Rami Ahmad al Sayed, one of Homs’ most active citizen journalists, was killed by shellfire. For the past few months, Al Sayed’s YouTube channel had provided media around the world with some of the most compelling – and often distressing – videos of the situation inside Homs. The fearless young man often livestreamed images from the Baba Amr neighbourhood, where he lived. The last video on his channel is of his lifeless body, posted by his brother.
Then on Wednesday, two more local citizen journalists were reportedly killed in the shelling of a clandestine media centre that also claimed the lives of two Western journalists.
Al Sayed and his colleagues were not the first citizen journalists to die in the quest to show the world what was happening in Homs: before him came Mazhar Tayyara, Basid Al Sayed, and others whose stories have not yet been told. Activists fear they may not be the last, either.
According to Omar Shakir, the citizen journalists who worked in the shelled media centre have now moved to another clandestine location. He says they are fervently hoping they won’t be the victims of a second attack. In the meantime, they continue to try to leak information to the outside world, and expect to send their cameramen back out to roam the streets again as soon as possible.
Post written by FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.