The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Media activism in Al-Raqqah | Oppression against media activists amid complicated procedures

Journalism has been known for being the “fourth authority” and the first reference of evaluating the work of ruling authorities in a country, as well as highlighting the people situation, plights and demands.


Since the onset of the Syrian Revolution, all powers, human rights organisations and the international community have focused pictures and video footage taken by media activists, which showed the systematic oppression and violence by regime forces and security services against peaceful demonstrators. For over 11 years, the regime’s national cyber security service has arrested so many civilians for “involving in media-related activities and posting pictures and video clips showing regime forces’ atrocities.”


On the other hand, revolutionaries and activists managed to document so many crimes committed by the Syrian regime, including killing, bombardment and arbitrary arrests; the most prominent examples are the pictures and video clips taken by “Caesar” and the “Gravedigger.”


The period of the “Islamic State” organisation’s rule in several areas throughout Syria, especially in Al-Raqqah city where the group announced as the capital of the “Caliphate State,” experienced the first war against media activists. Tens of Syrian activists then were arrested for “treachery and supporting the International Coalition, the Syrian regime, the Free Army and SDF,” where ISIS circulated pictures and video footages showing executions of journalists and media activists accusing them of “infringing upon the Caliphate territory, and involving in the killing of the commoners (civilians) by taking pictures and videos and collecting information for the favour of the aircraft of foreign countries and the rest of conflicting powers in Syria.”


Since the liberation of Al-Raqqah in 2017, SDF and the International Coalition have focused their efforts to open the way for official and professional media activism. Accordingly, press websites managed to cover all campaigns by SDF and the Coalition across Al-Raqqah, Deir Ezzor, Al-Hasakah and Aleppo countryside, mainly Afrin. Licenses have been granted to international and local TV channels and radio stations to work in those areas. Moreover, academies were opened and programs were launched for training amateurs and local photographers and journalists.


On the other hand, international bodies have exploited media openness in SDF-controlled areas and recruited many media activists, after “Olive Branch” operation in Afrin and “Peace Spring” operation in Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqah countryside, to work for TV channels and websites affiliated with Turkish intelligence.


Several TV channels, which SDF see as “hostile bodies” of Syria’s media, such as “Orient” and “Halab Today,” frequently published reportages showing locals talking about the deteriorating living conditions and poor service. SDF have cited these reports, which they see violating media activism’s standards, as an excuse for the campaign of arrests, during which SDF arrested many media activists. That campaign was launched under the pretext that “such practices aimed at conspiring against the state security and spying for Turkish and Syrian regime intelligence.”


According to SOHR sources, SDF accused websites funded by foreign powers of espionage and paid large sums of money to obtain pictures showing hallways inside official and military institutions affiliated to SDF; let alone the surveys and public polls based on the opinions of locals who described the sufferings of the region’s residents.


SOHR sources have also reported that most of the detained activists are not journalists or politicians, and they are media activists who are professional in photography and have sent reportages to those websites, serving the agendas of Turkish-backed TV channels, after consensus reached with the head of Syria’s National Intelligence Organization, Ali Mamlouk, who asked Turkey to close its headquarters and expel media activists and handing over these headquarters to the Syrian regime.


SOHR sources have also reported that after the “swear process” in late July 2022, the Autonomous Administration have clamped down on journalists and media activists in areas under its control, especially in Al-Raqqah. Authorities in SDF-controlled areas have imposed strict measures, according to which activists have to get several permissions and comply with specific conditions before preparing any reportages.


These measures include the following permissions and conditions:


  • Media activists have to be registered in the “Free Media Union.” The registration in this body requires media activists to provide at least ten articles of their own.


  • Security check by security services.


  • Permission by the information bureau of the Autonomous Administration.


  • Permission by the information bureau of the civil council in Al-Raqqah and the information bureau of the Internal Security Forces.


  • Partial permissions by committees and bodies of the ruling authorities and official institutions.


It is worth noting that most of the licensed press and media websites stopped providing reports about the Autonomous Administration and official councils following the complicated measures imposed by the Autonomous Administration in areas under its control, while media activism has been confined to the people’s opinions and reports about the service and humanitarian situations which can be prepared more easier, away from the routine complicated measures.