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Gunned down for reporting

Daniel Heinrich / jsDecember 29, 2015

Journalists critical of the terror group "Islamic State" are also under threat outside of Syria. In Turkey, journalist Naji Jerf was gunned down on the street. It was not an isolated case.

Women hold pictures of film maker Naji Jerf, who was killed on December 27, during his funeral in Gaziantep on December 28, 2015.
Mourners hold up pictures of Naji Jerf at his funeralImage: Getty Images/AFP/Str

He was just 37-years-old, but now Naji Jerf is dead. The Syrian journalist and filmmaker was assassinated Sunday, shot twice in the head while on the street in the southeastern Turkish town of Gaziantep. He is survived by his wife and their two daughters.

Naji Jerf was known for his critical reporting on "Islamic State" (IS). His reports documented the atrocities committed by the terrorist group. His most recent work was a film about the former trading city of Aleppo.

Syrian theater director Nawar Bulbul was shocked by the death of his friend, telling DW: "With Naji's death, Syria has lost a great filmmaker. He was a hero in the Syrian film world." Nawar Bulbul has no doubt as to who was behind the murder. "Of course it was IS henchmen," he said. Nevertheless, the director continued, the Assad regime bears part of the responsibility for his friend's death as well.

"If it weren't for the atrocities committed by this crazy regime, there would be no IS to start with."

Nawar Bulbul
Nawar Bulbul is mourning his friendImage: Nawar Bulbul

AKP against public reporting

Naji Jerf's death comes at a time when the situation for journalists is becoming increasingly precarious in Turkey - which ranked 149th of 180 countries on the 2015 Press Freedom Index compiled by the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Considering the significance of the case, astonishingly little is being reported within the country. Turkey expert Gareth Jenkins said the Turkish government was to blame for that.

"The AKP attempts to quash all reporting that presents it in a negative light," the expert from the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Istanbul said, adding "part of that is also the fact that it is possible for IS sympathizers to kill people in Turkey."

Climate of fear among critical journalists

Jerf's murder was indeed just one of many deadly attacks carried out against IS opponents in Turkey. Besides suicide attacks on Kurds or left-leaning political activists, Syrian journalists often end up in the terrorists' crosshairs.

Just this past October, Ibrahim Abd al-Qader and Fares Hamadi were brutally murdered in an apartment in Urfa, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of Gaziantep. Like Jerf, they too, worked for the platform "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently." A Syrian organization, RBSS works underground to document atrocities perpetrated by "Islamic State," and was given the International Press Freedom Award this autumn.

Abdalaziz Alhamza, a founding member of the group and its spokesman, was defiant when speaking with DW.

Mourners carry the casket of Naji Jerf
Naji Jerf was buried on December 28Image: Getty Images/AFP/Str

"We are mourning the death of a dear friend. We thought that we were in a safe country here in Turkey. We have been sorely disappointed, but we will not give up."

Turkey expert Gareth Jenkins cannot yet say what effect the murder might have on critical investigative journalism in the country.

"The big problem is the fear that is spreading. Many journalists knowingly avoid critical reports on policy in and around Syria. And the AKP's stance, whether intentional or not, has actually led to a situation in which IS sympathizers feel so emboldened, they can simply kill people."

A role model for his friends

In the eyes of Nawar Bulbul, Naji Jerf was a hero because he refused to remain silent in this hostile environment. The regime critic knows what it feels like to flee terror. He left his homeland to escape the civil war himself and is now living in neighboring Jordan. The situation isn't easy for him there either. Still, he does not want to let it keep him from his work.

"I am scared of IS and the Assad regime, but we can't lose hope," the 42-year-old said. "As journalists, directors and artists we are obliged to show the world what is happening in Syria."