After the spring of 2011, the political and media landscape changed in Syria. Opposition and independent journalists established alternative media networks to challenge the state’s official media’s narrative. The Syrian Kurds got some breathing room and managed to establish a local media infrastructure and form professional syndicates to represent them, one of which is the Syrian Kurdish Journalist Network, established in early March 2012 in the city of Qamishli in the far northeast...
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the Network’s president, Salwa Suleiman, said that they aim to support media professionals and institutions in the country’s Kurdish region, spreading across the northeast of the country. Hibar Othman, the Network’s CEO, mentioned that they had organized three digital activities since the COVID-19 began to spread. Held on Zoom, these activities were organized in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited, and there are plans to establish a training center.
Ali Nimer, the director of the “Violations Documenting Center”, emphasized that the region east of the Euphrates remains the safest place for journalists. Conditions are better than those in government-controlled areas, the areas under the control of the extremist group “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (Organization for the Liberation of the Levan) and the territory controlled by armed factions in northwestern Syria. The Network considers itself an independent media regulatory body and includes 80 professional journalists working inside and outside Syria.
According to Suleiman, “the Network monitors hate speech and works against misinformation”, by empowering members professionally and advocating for rights of media professionals. With Dutch organization Free Press Unlimited’s support and media experts’ management, the Network has developed its capacities and administrative structure.
She adds: “We aspire to function as an institution, coordinate with all Kurdish and Syrian groups efforts to monitor and document all the violations perpetrated against media professionals and media organizations throughout Syria.” The Network defends the rights and freedoms of journalists from arbitrary punishment or persecution because of their opinions. It has demanded that the authorities of the Autonomous Administration and institutions of civil governance do not conceal information about the dangers of Covid-19.
There are three media unions among the Kurds of Syria. In addition to the Network, there is the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, which is based in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, and the Free Media Union, which is close to the Autonomous Administration authorities who manage the region east of the Euphrates.
Amid the unprecedented challenges facing journalists, Hibar Othman says that over the past year, the Network has managed to garner the trust of many international organizations and has become a key partner for many media organizations that monitor and highlight the military factions’ violations. This has helped them organize workshops and expand the scope of their work.
In a country considered a “media blackspot” by Reporters Without Border, the Network has identified 39 violations over the past year. They recorded four fatalities and fourteen injuries when Turkish army air forces targeted journalists in October last year, as well as four cases of journalists receiving threats and being attacked, two journalists being banned from working, and three arrested. The fate of the Kurdish journalist Farhad Hamo, a correspondent for the Kurdish channel Rudaw, is still obscure.
According to Ai Nimer, the Network documentation mechanism and work methodology work on three steps: “We receive information about violations from Network members, human rights centers, the media, and volunteers who provide us with information .” The second step is verifying the validity of the claims by gathering more information... “Then a statement or report is written and put before the administrative body for discussion, and we reach out to international organizations and concerned authorities.”
The Office aims to document all violations against Kurdish journalists in Syria, particularly against Syrian media professionals working in northeastern Syria in general, except for those working with extremist organizations.