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December 7, 2016

Syrian citizen journalists honoured at British Journalism Awards – ‘Our work shows we can fight arms with words’

By Freddy Mayhew

A team of Syrian citizen journalists fighting Isis and the Assad regime by reporting on the atrocities carried out in the besieged city of Raqqa were honoured with a standing ovation at the British Journalism Awards.

One of the members of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) collected the Marie Colvin Award – named in honour of the Sunday Times foreign correspondent who was killed in 2012 – on behalf of the group at the ceremony in Stationers’ Hall, London, last night.

Abdalaziz Alhamza, told the crowd of British journalism’s best and brightest that he was collecting the award “on behalf of my colleagues of RBSS, those of whom are still alive, those who are in exile, and in memory of those who have fallen by the hands of the death cult known as ISIS”.

The clandestine group was established on Facebook and Twitter as the Raqqa Blog before becoming a news website in April 2014.

It is made up of some 18 citizen journalists risking their lives to secretly report on the ground in Raqqa while a further ten staff work outside of Syria to publish the dispatches in Arabic and English.

The group has been declared an enemy of God by Islamic State and two of its members, Ibahim Abd al-Qader and Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim, have been killed by the terrorist group within the last two years.

Alhamza said: “Our story is the story of the Syrian people, an entire nation stuck between two evils: Isis and the baby-killing Assad regime.

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“My colleagues and I never thought or even could imagine the level of suffering our people has been subjected to in the last five years. We learned the hard way that freedom doesn’t come cheap.”

“Back in in 2013, when we thought that we were rid of the Assad regime, the black banners began showing up in our city of Raqqa.

“At first we didn’t fully understand that the most dangerous terrorist group in the world just showed up at our doorstep with a plan to enslave us.

“Isis wasn’t only content with killing and maiming in the name of their insane ideology, but they also wanted to destroy our culture, our way of life, and even our humanity by their brutality.

“In 2014, we realized two important things: the first is that the outside world was not going to help us, and the second is that we had to do something. Anything. So we created RBSS.

“Our goal was not only to expose Isis criminality, but also to resist them. We did that by capturing and distributing images and videos of life in Raqqa under ISIS.

“The scenes of extreme violence and humiliation the group visited on our city’s people. We wanted to make sure the world – even if it wasn’t going to help us – knew what was going on.

“But we didn’t stop there, because we were not simply passively watching, we wanted to resist Isis and defy it just as we did Assad.

“We began tagging walls, and organizing secret demonstrations, we networked and recruited among our fellow Raaqa youth.

“We also started a magazine written in the local dialect. We even made its cover to look like Isis’ own magazine.

“We also target children and their parents so prevent them from being recruited by Isis. We don’t want another generation of Isis to spring again amongst us. That is why we do what we do.

“Our work shows that we can fight arms with words, and that ultimately is the only way to defeat them, and Isis knows it.

“That is why it has killed many of our colleagues both in Syria and even outside of Syria. Isis is afraid. It is afraid most of one idea: liberty.”

A report by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research puts the death toll from the conflict in Syria at 470,000.

An estimated 11.5 per cent of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011 and nearly half of the population, which pre-war was more than 22m people, has been displaced, which in turn has fueled the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe.

Earlier this year Press Gazette sat down with one of the member of RBSS to discuss the group’s work and the situation in Syria.

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