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UNESCO chief voices ‘deep concern’ over continued killing of journalists in Syria

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
UNESCO/D. Bijeljac
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

UNESCO chief voices ‘deep concern’ over continued killing of journalists in Syria

The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today voiced deep concern over the killing of both professional and citizen journalists in Syria.

“I am deeply concerned about the continued killings that have decimated the ranks of professional and citizen journalists in Syria in recent weeks,” said the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova.

“The killing of journalists and bloggers is not only a crime against individuals and a breach of their inalienable human right of freedom of expression. It is also a crime against society’s right to access information and engage in democratic debate,” Ms. Bokova added in a UNESCO news release.

Her comments follow the violent deaths of eight journalists since late November: newspaper editor Naji Assaad; TV reporter Bassel Tawfiq Youssef; professional journalist Abdel Khalil; a and citizen journalists Hozan Abdel Halim Mahmoud, Mohammed Al-Khalid, Abdullah Hassan Kaake, Mustafa Kerman and Mohammad Al-Zaher, also known as Abu Nasser Na’imi.

Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 21 months ago. The violence has spawned more than 465,000 refugees, while more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

Mr. Assaad, a retired journalist who continued working for government-run newspaper Tishreen was shot dead outside his home in the capital, Damascus, on 4 December, and Mr. Tawfiq Youssef, a Government television journalist, was killed on 21 November in a Damascus suburb, according to UNESCO.

Mr. Mahmoud was killed one day earlier while filming clashes in the north-eastern province of Al-Hasaka. Mr. Khalil, who was also the president of Ras Al-Ain’s Kurdish municipal council, was killed by a sniper during clashes on 19 November.

Mr. Al-Khalid, from Homs, is reported to have been executed by an armed group in Aleppo on 18 November and Mr. Kaake is said to have died under torture in the same city one day earlier.

Mr. Al-Zaher and Mr. Kerman are reported to have been killed by shell fire on 19 November and 16 November in Damascus and Aleppo, respectively.

UNESCO stated that these deaths bring to 40 the number of reporters and citizen journalists killed in Syria this year.