NEW YORK (AP) – The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed outrage at the number of journalists killed and detained in the year since the Syrian uprising began _ the highest death toll of any country swept by the Arab Spring.
The committee said in a report released late Wednesday that eight local and international journalists have died while working in the country since November, at least five in circumstances that indicate “potential government culpability.”
It said these were the first journalists’ deaths in Syria since the committee started keeping records in 1992.
The New York-based organization that promotes press freedom said it found substantial evidence that two local journalists, Ferzat Jarban and Basil al-Sayed, “were directly targeted by government forces.”
It said circumstantial evidence and witness statements point to the possibility that government forces may have taken deliberate, hostile action against the press that led to the deaths of award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, American war reporter Marie Colvin who worked for Britain’s Sunday Times, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has used its police and military forces to suppress a yearlong civilian uprising in which the U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed. A number of regimes in nearby countries have been overthrown in Arab Spring uprisings, including Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the committee’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator, said the Syrian government has tried to impose a news blackout “but killing and imprisoning the messenger has not killed the message, as intrepid citizen journalists and reporters continue to defy immense danger to shed light on events in Syria.”
The committee said in a statement that as of December, eight journalists were imprisoned for their work in Syria.
It said nine other journalists, bloggers and activists affiliated with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression remain in detention after a raid on the organization’s offices in February. Until the arrests, the center played a key role in reporting about daily developments in Syria, the committee said.
A call to Syria’s U.N. Mission seeking comment was answered by a man who said no one was there to respond.
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