Annual Report: Syria 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: Syria 2013

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  • Nine of 11 Shi'a Muslim Lebanese men taken as hostages by the armed group ‘Asifat al-Shimal Brigade while travelling to Lebanon from Iran on 22 May were still being held at the end of the year.
  • On 31 July, following intense clashes, the armed group al-Tawhid Brigade captured 14 members of the Sunni Muslim pro-government al-Berri clan. Video footage showed the captured men being tortured before at least three of them, including a clan leader, Ali Zein al-‘Abdeen al-Berri, were shot dead. The FSA's Head of Central Media condemned the killings and announced an investigation. No investigation was known to have been carried out.

Freedom of expression – attacks on journalists

All sides targeted journalists; Syrian government forces also targeted citizen journalists. At least 11 were killed in apparently targeted attacks, while others were detained or taken hostage. Other journalists died as a result of indiscriminate shelling or crossfire.

  • US journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed when government forces shelled a building in Homs on 22 February. Journalists who survived alleged that the building was deliberately targeted because it was being used as a media centre. Rami al-Sayed, a Syrian citizen journalist reporting from Homs, died from shrapnel wounds from shelling on the same day.
  • Maya Nasser, a Syrian correspondent for the Iranian state-run Press TV, was shot dead, apparently by opposition snipers, while reporting on a bomb attack against the army headquarters in Damascus on 26 September. His colleague Hussein Mortada from the Iranian al-Alam news network was injured in the attack. Both men had previously received threats from opposition forces.
  • Ali Mahmoud Othman, an activist in the Homs media centre, was arrested at his home on 24 March. After an appearance on state television in April, his family had no further information from state officials concerning his whereabouts by the end of the year.
  • Mazen Darwish, head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and four other SCM staff, Abd al-Rahman Hamada, Hussein Gharir, Mansour al-Omari and Hani al-Zitani, were detained incommunicado following their arrest by Air Force Intelligence officers on 16 February in Damascus and were still being held at the end of the year. Eleven other people arrested at the same time were released, although seven were later convicted by a military court of “possessing prohibited materials with the intent to disseminate them”.

Extrajudicial executions by government forces and associated militias

Government forces and the militias operating alongside them summarily executed captured opposition fighters and civilians, sometimes in large numbers, during military incursions into areas perceived to be supportive of the opposition. Often the dead were found with their hands tied behind their backs, with multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body. Some were burned.

  • Government soldiers took three brothers – Yousef, Bilal and Talal Haj Hussein, all construction workers in their twenties – from their home in Sarmin, a suburb of Idlib, on 23 March. They summarily executed them in front of their mother and sisters, before setting their bodies on fire.
  • Scores of people, including many civilians not involved in fighting, were summarily executed during a military incursion into Houla village, near Homs, on 25 May. Despite government denials, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry concluded that “over 100 civilians, nearly half of whom were children” were killed there by government soldiers and associated militias.

Excessive use of force by government forces and associated militias

Government forces and militias routinely used lethal and other excessive force to quell peaceful protests calling for the “fall of the regime”. Hundreds of people, including children and bystanders, who posed no threat to the security forces or others, were killed or wounded by government snipers during protests and public funerals of “martyrs”. The authorities pressed some victims' families to sign statements blaming armed terrorist groups rather than the security forces for their relatives' deaths.