Syria: Citizen journalists risk their lives | Middle East/North Africa | DW | 14.05.2013
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Middle East/North Africa

Syria: Citizen journalists risk their lives

DW Akademie has long conducted trainings in Syria but due to the current situation workshops are only being held outside the country. Participant Omar al-Khani talked about the dangers now confronting journalists.

In April DW Akademie invited eight Syrian citizen journalists to a workshop in Istanbul. It was not clear ahead of time that all participants would be able to attend. The one-week training on advanced video reporting focused on production schedules, storytelling and journalism standards. Participant Omar al-Khani is a journalist and photographer. He talked to DW Akademie about the challenges he now faces.

Al-Khani was born and raised in Damascus. After completing his marketing studies at Damascus University he left Syria in 2003 to work abroad. With the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt he left Sudan and returned to his family in Syria, hoping to support political changes. He has remained in the country, working as a journalist and photographer for foreign news outlets including The Times, New York Times and The Guardian.

How dangerous is the situation for journalists?
Omar al-Khani: Just after I'd returned to Syria I took part in a demonstration near the Interior Ministry where we were demanding the release of political prisoners. Friends and I filmed and photographed prisoners as well as people who'd been injured and martyrs, and sent the material to various media outlets. We also organized other demonstrations, printed flyers and spray-painted slogans to get more people on to the streets. The security forces then arrested me and held me for two weeks. Our activities had all been nonviolent, however, and were simply aimed at achieving justice. Overall, the situation is extremely dangerous for journalists and especially for photographers. I'm often on the front line and come under fire. Still, nobody is forcing me to do this - it's my own choice and I believe that the work I'm doing is important.

Describe your current role.
I report to foreign media and governments about the situation and new developments, and I also support Syrian journalists, helping them with reports and translations. I began working as a photographer for Reuters in 2012 and my work now appears internationally. I've also just finished my first documentary; it's about life last year in Damascus and the outskirts.

A Syrian girl rides her bicycle in an almost deserted street in the Teshrin neighborhood of the Qabun area in Damascus on January 3, 2013. US troops began arriving in Turkey to man Patriot missile batteries against threats from neighbouring Syria, where the 21-month conflict between the regime and rebels has escalated (photo: OMAR AL-KHANI/AFP/Getty Images).

Omar al-Khani's photos reflect the bleakness of life in Syria

Are you able to do street interviews?
I can in certain areas not under government control but most people are too afraid to talk.

How do you access information?
Primarily through social media. I'm a co-founder of the Facebook page "Free Qabon". Qabon is a neighborhood in Damascus with members from all over the country. We're also getting a lot of eyewitness reports via email.

Was it difficult to get to the workshop in Istanbul?
Yes, very. I obviously couldn't take the official route because of the checkpoints run by Assad's army. I had to take a long detour instead in order to reach a border crossing not controlled by the regime, and where you don't need to show documents. The Turkish government has been very helpful that way.

Members of the Free Syrian Army hold their rifles as they secure a street in the Damascus suburb of Saqba August 17, 2012. Syria's government and rebels have chosen the path of war, a U.N. peacekeeping chief said as the world body ended its doomed monitoring mission to Damascus and deadlock persists among world powers over how to contain the spreading conflict (photo: REUTERS/Omar al-Khani).

"I'm often on the front line and come under fire"

What did you gain from the workshop?
It was a great opportunity for me. I learned a lot about the basics of professional TV reports and we all learned more about lighting and sound, how to produce our own reports. I'd always wanted to know more about television journalism and DW Akademie is the best place to do that.

A few days after the workshop finished one of the participants, Mohammed Al-Khalf, died in a bombing attack.
It's been incredibly difficult to lose yet another friend. So many of my friends and colleagues have been killed.

How do you see things developing in the country?
It will be a long time before Syria becomes the country we've been dreaming of. There's already been so much bloodshed.

What are you expecting from the international community?
Not much. There's been nothing but lip-service for the last two years and no one has really tried to help us. It seems that the international community is either content with the situation or at least accepts it.

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