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Press release: Independent radio station in Rojava, Syria, set on fire, executive director threatened with death if broadcasting did not stop
Amudah, 27 April 2016 – ARTA FM’s headquarters in Amudah, north-east Syria, was set on fire last night, and its executive director was threatened with death at gun point if the independent community radio station did not stop broadcasting.(1)
Around 11pm last night (26 April), five masked men and armed with guns turned up at ARTA’s headquarters in Amudah as the last staff members were leaving. Another group of armed men were waiting outside the home of ARTA FM’s Executive Director, a popular musician known as Sefqan. They pointed their guns to his head and that of his driver and threatened to kill them if they did not comply. They then led him to the Amudah Cemetery and said they would “take away his soul” if ARTA FM did not stop. “We’re fighting a war and you’re talking about bullshit,” they said.
Last week heavy fighting broke out in the nearby city of Qamishli between the local Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, and the local People’s Protection Units (YPG), on the one hand, and Syrian regime forces and militias, on the other. Dozens from both sides were killed and injured before a truce was agreed. ARTA FM covered the fighting extensively and became one of the main reliable sources of information for the local population.(2)
Sefqan was then led back from the cemetery to ARTA’s HQ, where he and two guards were handcuffed downstairs, while the armed men went upstairs, ransacked the offices and set the building on fire. They reportedly took some of the radio’s laptops with them. As they left, the armed men threatened Safqan that they “will kill you if you ever switch on that radio again.” Fire fighters and the Asayish (the local security forces) arrived about half an hour later and took Sefqan and the guard away for investigation.
ARTA has demanded that the Self Administration authorities open a serious, independent investigation into the incident, pointing out the following facts:
– Amudah is surrounded by a trench and is full of Asayish checkpoints, making it near-impossible for outsiders to enter the city. Only armed units under the Self Administration authority can move around freely.
– The ARTA building is next door to the Self Administration’s Guest House in Amudah, and other important which is constantly guarded by the Asayish.
– The electricity was cut off in the neighbourhood during the ‘operation’, even though it had almost not been cut off in the last few days.
A statement by the Executive Council of the Self Administration in the Jazeera Canton condemned the attack and promised to open an investigation.
Siruan H. Hossein, ARTA FM’s founder and General Director, said: “We will not be intimidated by these cowardly acts and stop our work to strengthen free, independent media in the region. However, we also do not want to put our staff at risk. We demand that the Self Administration authorities immediately open a serious, independent investigation and punish those responsible for this crime. We also demand that serious measures are taken to protect media workers, civil society activists and civilians in general. That is what the People’s Protection Units are supposed to be there for.”
Notes for editors:
1. ARTA for Media and Development is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation registered in Germany. It was founded in February 2013 by a group of Syrian-Kurdish activists and media professionals based in and outside Syria.
ARTA FM, a project of ARTA for Media and Development, is an independent, multilingual community radio station broadcasting in the north-eastern parts of Syria. It is also available online (arta.fm) and on the NileSat satellite network. It started broadcasting in July 2013 from Amuda, where ARTA is now headquartered.
ARTA FM broadcasts daily 15 hours of live programmes and news in four languages: Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac and Armenian – the languages of the local communities inhabiting the northern parts of Syria, along the Turkish borders. It is listened to by wide sections of the population in the regions of Amuda, Qamishli, Malikiyya (Derik), Ras al-‘Ayn and ‘Ayn al-‘Arab (Kobani).
2, See these testimonies by listeners about ARTA FM’s coverage of the Qamishli fighting last week: https://www.facebook.com/artaradio/videos/609857142501295/