On December 27, prominent Syrian journalist and filmmaker, Naji Jerf, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in broad daylight in Gaziantep, Turkey — making him the third journalist in as many months to pay with his life for doing his job.
Jerf, editor-in-chief of the Syrian independent monthly, Hentah, created anti-Islamic State documentaries detailing violent atrocities by the group in caliphate-controlled territory. Most recently, he published a documentary for the group, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, that details the brutal killings of Syrian activists during Islamic State’s occupation of Aleppo throughout 2013 and 2014. It garnered over 12 million views when Al-Arabiya posted it to its Facebook page. A statement from RBSS on Twitter Sunday stated, “Film maker Naji Jerf, father of two children, was assassinated … today in Gaziantep.” According to Turkish news outlet T24, “He was hit by a bullet in the head as he was walking in the street and taken to hospital, where he died,” reported the Hurriyet.
News of Jerf’s murder, described as an assassination by many, comes less than two months after Syrian journalists Ibrahim Abd al-Qader and Fares Hamadi were found brutally stabbed and beheaded in an apartment in Sanliurfa in Southeastern Turkey, on October 30. Two days after their murders, Islamic State supporters claimed responsibility in a video posted to social media, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists. The supporters said the double murder should serve as a warning to all “apostates [that] they will be slaughtered silently” — a morbid perversion of the RBSS journalist collective’s title.
In a subsequent interview with NBC News, Ibrahim’s brother, Ahmed, explained how the two journalists — known targets of the Islamic State who had not been careless with security measures — ended up murdered. According to Ahmed, a supposed IS defector, Tlas Surur, gained the pair’s trust, taking advantage of Ibrahim’s friendly nature to the point they considered him family.
“Ahmed also showed NBC News the windows of Surur’s rented apartment across the alley [from where Ibrahim and Ahmed’s family lived]. He says Surur covered them with cardboard and blankets right before the murders and invited two accomplices. A Turkish police source told NBC News that other evidence linking Surur to the murder[s] has been found.
“Ibrahim’s brother believes that Surur managed to slip back [into] Syria [and subsequently] rejoined ISIS. But he hasn’t remained silent.”
According to NBC, during preparations for continuing the interview, Ahmed received numerous text messages from Surur, himself, which he read aloud. “We killed Ibrahim to break your hearts and we will come after you with another knife,” one text stated.
“If they think this will stop me, they are wrong,” Ahmed asserted after receiving that threat. “I’m more determined. We will keep going until we are finished with ISIS. This is a promise for Ibrahim and all of the victims of Raqqa.”
Journalists aren’t the only group in peril in Turkey, as a number of activists have also been killed — some under exceedingly suspicious circumstances, as in the case of a prominent Kurdish rights activist and lawyer who was shot to death midday on November 28.
In the midst of a speech in front of a crowd of onlookers, head of the Diyarkabır Bar Association, Tahir Elçi, was killed in a barrage of gunfire by unidentified assailants. Though most of the 17-second attack was captured on video by two police officers at the scene, both managed to ‘somehow’ miss the exact moment Elçi was killed.
A storm of controversy has erupted over the incident which, incidentally, also left at least three people injured — including correspondents of the Anatolia and Doğan news agencies — and a Turkish police officer dead. A second officer died later in the hospital from injuries he received in the attack. A slightly more detailed account was reported by RT, claiming Doğan had “recorded a video of the incident, showing a group of gunmen hiding behind a minaret of a nearby mosque,” and when Elçi “finished speaking, the group opened fire at the lawyer and people standing beside him.”
From the moment gunmen started shooting, suspicion of possible Turkish government involvement began to swirl, as pro-Kurdish HDP Party (People’s Democratic Party) called the shooting a “planned assassination.”
Elçi previously made headlines in October, when he was arrested for “spreading terrorist propaganda” after saying “the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] is not a terrorist group” during an interview that aired on CNN Türk. Despite its being designated a “terrorist organization” by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, Elçi ruffled feathers by describing PKK as an “armed political organization with large support.” He was released pending trial the day after being arrested but was prohibited from traveling abroad. CNN Türk received a fine of ₺70,000 (just over $24,000) from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) over the incident, and will reportedly have its license revoked for any repeat offenses.
British journalist Jacky Sutton was found dead under dubious circumstances in an Istanbul airport in October. American journalist Serena Shim was killed in a highly suspect car accident in the border region of Turkey and Syria just over a year ago, though her family has yet to receive any answers from an unusually tight-lipped White House.
With an alarmingly lengthy list of dead journalists and activists, it’s becoming increasingly clear the Turkish government, indeed, has a vested interest in suppressing the truth.
Journalists are in danger outside of Turkey, too. In 2015 alone, 110 journalists were killed around the world — mostly in “peaceful” countries. The high death toll is “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists,” according to Reporters Without Borders.