“If we don’t get evacuated, the ugliest of crimes will be committed against us.”
Syria Direct reports on citizen journalists under threat after the capture of southern Syria by pro-Assad forces.
In an offensive in June and July, the Assad regime and allies — enabled by Russian bombing — moved into opposition territory in Quneitra and Daraa Provinces, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011. More than 300,000 people were displaced as rebels were forced into capitulation agreements.
While the agreements with Russian officers have provisions against detentions by the regime’s security forces, about 50 journalists and activists unable to leave are taking precautions.
“Samira al-Darawwi”, speaking from an undisclosed location in Daraa, “Every couple of days, we move to a different house. We try to avoid being followed or tracked by the regime.”
She explains, “We’re a target. We’ve seen most of the regime’s crimes — they want to arrest us.”
Darawwi, who withheld her real name because of the risk of retribution, said there is an increased risk for female journalists given their relative scarcity.
Rescue workers are also trying to avoid punishment. An international operation was able to move 98 White Helmets and 324 family members across the border into Jordan, but almost 400 could not be evacuated because of obstacles posed by pro-Assad forces and by Islamic State fighters.
In some cities and towns, former rebels and Russian military police oversee security. But in others, the regime’s forces are in control. Darawwi says there are “hundreds” of checkpoints that threaten harassment and detention.
In al-Lajat, about 50 km (31 miles) northeast of Daraa city, regime security personnel arrested scores of residents last week, according to pro-opposition media outlets.
“Maybe there are people who are with Daesh [Islamic State],” a former rebel official said. “But for most of those arrested, the accusations are baseless.”
An opposition activist said 118 people have been detained in al-Lajat. In hiding for more than a week, he explained, “They’re searching for journalists and Civil Defense workers, but have yet to arrest a single one so far,” the activist said, adding that pro-government forces were still “spread out” across a-Lajat.
Suleiman Ibrahim, another citizen journalist, says he is moving off-road by cutting through orchards and farmland:
“I only go out after 9 pm. There are checkpoints in every neighborhood.”
He summarizes his fears:
I worry that I could be arrested, that I could be killed or that I could disappear in prison like thousands of other Syrians. I fear they could go after my family to pressure them to turn me in.
If we don’t get evacuated, the ugliest of crimes will be committed against us.