Communications surveillance helps Syrian government target and murder journalists


A 2016 Privacy International report on Syrian state surveillance found that between 2007 and 2012 the Assad regime spent millions of dollars on building a nationwide communications monitoring system. By 2012, this surveillance capability helped the Syrian government target and murder journalists, including American Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer RĂ©mi Ochlik in 2012, both covering the war. In 2018, the Colvin family filed a video of the journalists' final moments after being struck by a rocket and nearly 2,000 pages of documents substantiating the claim that the journalists were murdered as part of a civil lawsuit against the Syrian government. While the documents, collected in a six-year investigation by the Center for Justice and Accountability, do not directly implicate Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, they do provide an account of the intelligence that revealed Colvin's location and the celebration by Syrian military and intelligence officials when they received news of her death. 

Six weeks before Colvin's death, French war correspondent Gilles Jacquier and other journalists were killed when a rocket-propelled grenade or mortar round was fired into the crowd at a pro-Assad rally in Homs that they were covering. Court documents show that the Syrian regime had mapped out the route of the march and ensured Jacquier did not survive. The goal was thought to be both to deter other journalists from coming to Syria and to send a message to France and French premier Nicolas Sarkozy. There are 127 other civil lawsuits and actions in US federal courts targeting the Syrian regime for its role in kidnapping and murdering US citizens.

Writer: Johnny Dwyer and Ryan Gallgher

Publication: The Intercept

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