OFF Speaker Raed Fares Assassinated in Syria
NEW YORK (November 24, 2018) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) mourns the death of Syrian civil society leader and journalist Raed Fares, who was assassinated on Friday morning in Kafranbel, Syria, a city in the rebel-held province of Idlib. Fares, who spoke at the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum, was targeted by two gunmen who followed Fares and fellow activist Hamoud Jneed from their office, before attacking their car and opening fire. Jneed died immediately, while Fares was transferred to Orient Hospital, where he later died. The identities of the attackers are as yet unknown. Fares had been targeted many times by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and supporters of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. HRF calls for an impartial investigation into the killings, and urges the international community to recognize the importance of Fares’ work and renew its support of Syrian civil society.
“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the assassination of Raed Fares, a dear friend and esteemed member of the Oslo Freedom Forum community. Raed worked tirelessly to counter fundamentalist narratives through journalism and to empower his fellow Syrians to build a better future. His work, bravery, and determination to succeed despite the many threats on his life make him a hero of the Syrian revolution,” HRF Chairman Garry Kasparov said. “Raed was killed because his work mattered. He was laying the groundwork for a democracy with his own two hands, creating a civil society from rubble and giving power back to survivors of war. In the wake of this tragedy, all we can do is honor Raed’s life and legacy by supporting the civil society he helped to build in its pursuit of a free, democratic Syria.”
Fares first became known outside of Syria in early 2014, when he started writing eye-catching, often sarcastic protest signs and sharing photos of them on social media. It was his way of speaking directly to people in the free world and asking them to help Syria. From there, Raed expanded his activism and journalism. He quickly became one of the most trusted sources of on-the-ground footage and information on Syria’s continuing conflict. With his death, many reporters outside Syria have lost a vital and increasingly rare source, and agents of misinformation will grow that much stronger in his absence.
Yet Fares has made sure that his work will outlast him. Fares was dedicated to teaching his fellow Syrians’ the skills they would need to build Syria’s democracy. He founded Radio Fresh out of Kafranbel in 2013 to give Syrians a source for unbiased reporting, working to counter fundamentalist narratives and the Assad regime’s propaganda. Radio Fresh trained more than 2,500 students in journalism, and employed more than 600 people. Fares also led trainings in nonviolent activism, and devoted special attention to empowering the women in his community, whose leadership he felt was vital to Syria’s future. For his work, Fares came under attack more than once from terrorist forces; in one attack in 2014, Fares was shot at more than 40 times and took two bullet wounds to his right side. Despite his injuries, he returned to work. In following years, he was tortured by al-Qaeda, his office was raided, his car bombed, and more. Still, in an op-ed published this summer, Fares said the greatest threat Radio Fresh faced was a lack of funding, especially after the United States decided to halt financial aid to humanitarian groups in Syria.
“Today the Syrian revolution has suffered a loss. Raed Fares — beloved by thousands of people not only in Syria, but all around the world — has left us,” fellow Syrian journalist and 2016 OFF speaker Abdalaziz Alhamza told HRF. “Assad, ISIS, and al-Qaeda feared Raed, so they all tried to silence him. While he could have made the choice to leave Syria and escape their threats, he decided to stay and fight them, armed with his radio and his words. Raed may be gone, but his soul and bravery will always remain with us and continue to inspire us in our commitment toward a future in which Syria is a free and democratic country — a future that will celebrate heroes like Raed who dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom”.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.