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SYRIA: Information Minister revokes accreditation of two BBC journalists

Syria revokes accreditation of two BBC journalists

Syria’s Ministry of Information must reverse its decision to revoke the accreditation of two BBC journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

CPJ (10.07.2023) – On July 8, the ministry said it had canceled the accreditation of two local journalists working for the BBC over “false” and “politicized” reporting, according to a statement by the ministry, the BBC, and multiple media reports. Those sources did not identify the journalists by name.

The ministry’s statement said one journalist worked as a radio correspondent, and the other as a correspondent and camera operator. It did not specify what reporting led to the revocation, but said the BBC had been “warned more than once” about “misleading reports relying on statements and testimonies from terrorist and anti-Syrian authorities.”

“The Syrian government has long restricted the media, and the recent revocation of two BBC reporters’ accreditation shows that the government remains intent on stifling independent voices,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities should reverse this decision and allow all members of the press to work freely and without fear of reprisal.”

In late June, the BBC published an investigative report linking the trade of an amphetamine drug with President Bashar al-Assad’s family and the Syrian Armed Forces. Syria, which has been roiled by civil war since 2011, has previously denied playing a role in the amphetamine trade.

In an email to CPJ, the BBC said that the outlet would “continue to provide impartial news and information to our audiences across the Arabic-speaking world.”

CPJ emailed the Syrian Ministry of Information for comment but did not receive any response.

At least five journalists were imprisoned in Syria at the time of CPJ’s 2022 prison census.

Photo credits: Reuters/Hollie Adams

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SYRIA: The lack of future for the Christian minority and the 7th Brussels EU-Conference

Conference held by COMECE, L’Oeuvre d’Orient and Aid to the Church in Need (European Times)

SYRIA: The lack of future for the Christian minority and the 7th Brussels EU-Conference

By Willy Fautré


The European Times NewsThe European Times (17.06.2023) – Christians in Syria are doomed to disappear within two decades if the international community does not develop specific policies to protect it.

This was the call for urgent assistance from Christian Syrian activists who had come to Brussels to testify at the conference organized by the COMECE, L’Oeuvre d’Orient and Aid to the Church in Need on the eve of the 7th Brussels EU Conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region.”


The event titled “Syria – Humanitarian and Development Challenges of Faith-Based Actors: a Christian Perspective” also gave the floor online to representatives of Christian humanitarian and social projects in Syria.

An accumulation of threats


In this 13th year of war, Christians are among the 97% of the global population which live below the poverty line but in addition the demographic erosion of their community looks irreversible. A few alarming data.


In Aleppo, 2/3 of Christian families have ‘disappeared’ from the radars: there are only 11,500 left now against 37,000 in 2010.


Each Christian family is only composed of 2.5 persons due to the decreasing birth rate that can be explained by the massive migration of young couples and the lack of future to be built in Syria for a possible next generation.


Moreover, according to some statistics, about 40% of the remaining families are headed by women but they have fewer job opportunities than men.


The average age of the members of the Christian community is 47 years. As it is steadily rising, this trend will lead to an increasingly aging community doomed to become less and less dynamic and to die slowly without descendants.


In addition, the devastating earthquake in February and the unabated egregious violations of human rights have further aggravated their situation.

For the moment, there is no light at the end of their tunnel although young Christians are ready to take up the challenge but funding is needed to build a future, some Syrian Christians said at the conference.


No regime change no reconstruction, the EU says

On 15 June, the EU High Representative/ Vice-President Josep Borrell said at the 7th Conference:

“The European policy on Syria has not changed. We will not re-establish full diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, or start working on reconstruction, until a genuine and comprehensive political transition is firmly under way – which is not the case. 


As long as there is no progress – and for the time being there is no progress – we will maintain the sanctions regime. Sanctions that target the regime and its supporters, and not the Syrian people.”


In the Catholic Church, some think that a lot of attention is disproportionately devoted to the sanctions targeting the 3% elite while not enough is efficiently being done to guarantee the present and the future of the poor population (97%).


The United States and the European Union have stopped to be credible political players in Syria since September 2013 when former U.S. President Obama finally failed to resort to military intervention, despite his verbal threats, after Assad used chemical weapons against his own population. This unpunished crossing of the American red line had then resulted in the unavoidable withdrawal of President Hollande from any military joint operation. The vacuum was quickly replaced by Russia and now Assad’s Syria has just been reintegrated in the Arab League.


Some in the Catholic Church firmly contend the position that reconstruction is a priority to keep the Syrians of all faiths and ethnicities on their historical lands and should not be indefinitely subjected to an illusory political change in Damas. They consider that reconstruction can be carried out without legitimizing Assad’s regime. Such voices need to be listened to and their options to be examined.


Foreign and international humanitarian Christian institutions have their relays in Syria. They can activate their human and logistical capacities to serve the Syrian population in its global diversity. They are reliable partners which meet transparency and justice requirements.


The tiny Christian minority is a chance for Syria because they can have a significant impact on the improvement of the daily life of all Syrians. The EU and other donors should bet on it because Syrians deserve to get a chance to live in dignity.


The 7th Brussels EU Conference

VII Brussels Conference “Supporting the Future of Syria and the region” (EEAS)


The high level ministerial segment of the conference gathered representatives of 57 countries on 14-15 June, including EU member states and over 30 international organisations, including the United Nations, in addition to the EU institutions.

The 7th Conference, which claims to be the main pledging event for Syria and the region in 2023, succeeded in mobilising aid to Syrians inside the country and in the neighbouring countries, through international pledges totalling €5.6 billion for 2023 and beyond, including €4.6 billion for 2023 and €1 billion for 2024 and beyond.


The pledges cover the humanitarian needs of Syrians inside Syria, and also support for early recovery and resilience, helping Syrians to rebuild their country and covering the needs of 5.7 million Syrian refugees in the hosting countries, in the neighbourhood: Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, as well as the needs of the communities who generously provide them shelter.


From 2011 to date, the European Union and its member states have been the largest donors of humanitarian and resilience assistance to Syria and the region with over €30 billion but they are no longer local political and geo-political players.


Christians in Syria hope that their inclusive educative, social and humanitarian projects will benefit at their fair value from this financial windfall. Only time will tell.

Christians from the charity “Hope” in Syria testifying in Brussels

Further reading about FORB on HRWF website


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SYRIA: Attack on the inauguration of the church of Saint Sofia

Attack on the inauguration of the church of Saint Sofia, wanted by the Russians

Agenzia Fides (25/07/2022) – https://bit.ly/3vgRRMW – Two people were killed and 12 injured on Sunday, July 24 by bombardment of a church as it was being inaugurated in the Syrian village of al-Suqaylabiyah, not far from the city of Hama. The small church intended to serve the local Greek Orthodox community, has a unique history: it wants to recall the ancient Constantinopolitan Basilica of Santa Sofia (Hagia Sophia, since July 2020 also re-used as a place of Islamic worship for will of the Turkish authorities), and was built in record time on Syrian territory on the initiative and thanks to the support of Russian political and military sectors.


Official Syrian sources attribute the attack to unspecified “terrorists”. The rocket fired which sowed death and pain among the Christians who rushed to the inauguration was probably launched from a drone. Rebel militias and armed groups of Islamist origin, fighting with the Syrian apparatuses and partly supported by Turkey, still control parts of the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama and Latakia. Two days before the attack on the church’s inauguration ceremony, bombings attributed to the Russian air force had caused seven deaths (including 4 minors) in the Idlib region. Even Yohanna X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, in a phone call with the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Hama described the attack on the inauguration of the Christian place of worship as a “cowardly terrorist attack”. The Patriarch – reports the Arab news site abouna.org – invoked God’s consolation on the relatives of the victims and the speedy recovery for the wounded.


In al-Suqaylabiyah, as reported by Fides (see Fides, 29/7/2020), two years ago, with the approval of the Damascus government, and with the support of Russian political and military sectors, the construction of a church dedicated to Divine Wisdom began, erected with the declared intention of reproducing, albeit at a reduced size, the architectural profile of Hagia Sophia, the ancient Byzantine Basilica of Constantinople – today Istanbul – recently converted into a mosque by the Turkish authorities.


The Syrian “mini-Hagia Sophia”, was presented by sources close to the government of Damascus, as a sort of Russian-Syrian response to the Turkish choice to re-open Hagia Sophia to Islamic worship.


Before the Syrian war, the town of al Suqaylabiyah was inhabited by about 20,000 Orthodox Christians. According to unverifiable information, relaunched through social networks by activists and propagandists close to the Syrian government, the laying of the first stone of the church took place in al Suqaylabiyah (a town in the governorate of Hama inhabited before the war by about 20 thousand Orthodox Christians), in the presence of representatives of the Moscow Duma (the Russian Parliament) and with the placet of the hierarchies of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (based in Damascus).



According to some reports, the construction of the church was made possible thanks to the direct operational contribution of the Russian military stationed in the base near Latakia. Nadel al Abdullah, who is in particular known for having led a militia that presented itself as a self-defense force composed of Orthodox Christians, indicated among the paramilitary groups deployed with the Assad regime in the conflict against the militants jihadists of the Islamic State (Daesh) or of Jabhat al Nusra. Syrian and Lebanese media had at the time also relaunched the statements of the Russian parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov, also known at home for the campaigns aimed at restoring the ancient name of Constantinople in Russian official publications to indicate the current Turkish city of Istanbul. The ancient Christian Basilica of Hagia Sophia became a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and was transformed into a simple museum complex in 1934 by the will of Mustafà Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Republic of Turkey.


Photo: Agenzia Fides

Further reading about FORB in Syria on HRWF website

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SYRIA: USCIRF Hearing on freedom of religion or belief in Syria

USCIRF Hearing on freedom of religion or belief in Syria

Peace can only be achieved through justice

By Dr Zsuzsa-Anna Ferenczy for Human Rights Without Frontiers (*)

HRWF (05.11.2022) – On May 10, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) organized a hearing on freedom of religion or belief in Syria to examine the current conditions in the country. The hearing, moderated by Nadine Maenza, USCIRF Chair, highlighted opportunities for U.S. policy to support Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic communities in formulating a political solution. The main question the invited expert witnesses addressed was how US policy can more effectively integrate freedom of religion or belief issues in its focus on Syria.

At present, religious freedom in Syria remains threatened. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad systematically discriminates against members of religious groups outside the President’s own Alawi branch of Islam, destroys religious minorities’ houses of worship during clashes with opposition groups, and actively strips both religious minorities and the Sunni Muslim majority of their autonomy and religious authority. Armed opposition forces and militant Islamist groups target vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities in their attempts to wrest power from the Assad regime and one another.


The al-Qaeda offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) continues to displace religious minority communities in the northwestern region of Idlib, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has increased its presence in eastern Syria, further destabilizing the region. Turkish-supported Syrian armed opposition groups leverage their Turkish financing and military support to wage campaigns of religious and ethnic cleansing in Afrin. In contrast, there are promising environments for religious freedom and intrareligious cooperation in Syria, including areas in the north and east governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

Ethan Goldrich, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the U.S. Department of State stressed that the state of human rights with regard to freedom of religion or belief in Syria is dismal. The United States urges and end to abuses by all parties and promotes accountability for ongoing atrocities against all minority groups, this remains a key US foreign policy priority, he added. The US also continues to engage the UN envoy for Syria to support a UN-facilitated Syria-led efforts.

Badran Jia Kurd,  Deputy Co-Chair of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) emphasized that in this part of Syria there several different groups coexist, without distinction made between them, whether Muslim, Christian or Yazidi. Religious tolerance and freedom of religion or belief are developed within the Administration, in a system accommodating all religions, where they can maintain their identities. The Autonomous Administration is offering an opportunity for all citizens who fled from ISIS, of all faiths. ISIS and the regime paved the way for deep religious divisions, affecting the mentality of the society long-term, he cautioned. Looking forward, a political solution is needed, that enables the preservation of all cultures and religions, in coexistence.

Max Hoffman, Director of the National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress, stressed that the US welcomes reconciliation efforts in Syria in the last few years, with a complete opposition to any normalization of Assad in power. Yet, the US should do more in the country, going beyond what it does at present, he stressed, keeping in mind that no political resolution is likely in the near term.

David Phillips, Director of Peacebuilding, and Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University spoke of Turkey’s role in the current situation in Syria. Mindful that Turkey acted as a lifeline for ISIS in the past, the US should adjust its policy regarding Turkey according to the reality at present, and see Turkey as it is, not as it wishes to see it. He also spoke of the situation on the ground more broadly, recalling that in 2014, the jihadists rampaged through Christian, Yazidi communities, launching a worldwide jihad against them. Armenian Christians, who have been present in Syria since biblical times, were attacked, taken hostage, had their churches destroyed and families uprooted in and around Aleppo, with options ranging from forced conversion, to slavery, extorsion or execution. In 2015 and 2016, the US and the EU declared the persecution of Christians by ISIS as genocide.

The expert witnesses agreed that going forward accountability for crimes committed is key. They recommended that the US engages the victims of persecution in order to cultivate long-term solutions as it addresses religious freedom in Syria.


(*) Dr. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is Assistant Professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan, and Expert Consultant at Human Rights Without Frontiers.


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