Syrian Forces Take Aim at Journalists

ernet has been a critical part of the demonstrations in Syria, as it has in other “Arab Spring” uprisings, but forces in the country have taken aim at journalists and activists attempting to cover the protests.

Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit promoting press freedom, released a list Thursday of journalists, bloggers and cyber-activists detained in Syria who were attempting to cover the protests. The organization listed 22 people but said the roster “is almost certainly incomplete.”

Reporters Without Borders urges the Syrian government to end its abuses against civil society members, especially all those who are providing the public with information about what is taking place, the organization said in a statement.

Syrian rights organizations estimate that around 30,000 people have been detained since protests erupted in the country in March. According to the U.N., roughly 3,000 Syrians have been killed in the uprisings. The activist group Local Coordination Committees of Syria said at least 40 people were killed on Friday alone.

The Internet was key to organizing early demonstrations, and later, to helping document the uprising amid a severe government crackdown on communications.

As protests swelled in June, the government cut off about two-thirds of all Syrian networks from the global Internet for about a day, with some government-related websites remaining unaffected. Internet and mobile data connections periodically have been cut off since then.

Syrian activists have described passing camera and cell-phone data cards across borders to activists in Jordan and Lebanon to get videos uploaded online. Syrians who have been detained and released say their interrogators often asked for their passwords for Facebook and Gmail accounts, and lists of sites they frequented online.

In February, Syria’s government lifted a 2007 ban on social-media sites, which activists and experts say came only after the regime got access to surveillance software to keep watch on the sites. Still, many Syrians say they’ve shut down their Facebook or e-mail accounts amid the protests, for fear of surveillance. Many have turned to using software that enables anonymity online.

The Syrian Ministry of Information, the Syrian Embassy in the U.S. and the Syrian Mission to the U.N. did not respond to requests for comment.