BEIRUT: Gunmen in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province shot and killed on Friday a prominent anti-government journalist who was also a sharp critic of Islamist militants.
Raed Fares’ US-funded Radio Fresh station provides news of the conflict to Syria’s northern provinces and is a source for international news outlets which have largely stayed away from the opposition-held areas amid rising lawlessness.
Fares’ killing was a blow to the few independent voices that have continued to promote non-violence and democratic change in the war-torn country.
In a June op-ed in The Washington Post, Fares lamented that the US had cut funds to Syria’s opposition areas, including the radio station he founded in 2013 in his hometown of Kafranbel in rebel-held Idlib province. He said such a move would only feed extremism.
“As a journalist and activist, I felt I had a duty to counter the fundamentalist narratives that are spreading among people who have no other source for hope in our war-torn homeland,” Fares wrote in the Post on June 28. His station provided training and jobs for hundreds of young activists and citizen journalists.
“If it weren’t for us and other independent voices, terrorists would be the only source of information about Syria locally and internationally. For that reason, the terrorist groups (and the regime) see us as a direct threat.” Fares survived an earlier assassination attempt in 2014 when he was shot in the chest by armed men. He was abducted by militants affiliated with an Al Qaeda group and tortured. He criticised the militants’ harassment of its critics. His radio station was raided by militants and bombed by government warplanes.
Fares and friend Hammoud al-Juneid died of their wounds after three gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Kafranbel. A third, Ali Dandouch, sitting in the backseat, ducked the bullets and survived, he later said. Dandouch said the gunmen fired at them from a moving vehicle.
Social media sites were rife with the news of Fares’ killing. “My last friend & hope 4 a better Syria has been killed (today) after being let down by” everyone, Zaina Erhaim, a UK-based Syrian journalist who left the country in 2016, wrote on Twitter.
Fares gained fame during the Syrian uprising because of continued support for opposition protests even when the conflict took a violent turn.
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018