Syria Cracking Down on Journalists, Activists Say
Nima Elbagir; Joe Sterling Cnn, St. Joseph News-Press
(CNN) -- The Syrian government is trying to "systematically dismantle" the anti-regime "citizen journalist network" and have seized a key player in the operation, activists told CNN Saturday.
The regime has been making arrests and have seized Ali Mahmoud Othman -- instrumental in the evacuation of the wounded journalists from inside the Homs' neighborhood of Baba Amr, an activist who asked not to be named for security reasons said Saturday.
"We believe Ali is being subjected to severe torture," the activist said. "The lives of our activists and citizen journalists across the whole country are now at risk."
Activists believe that Othman, head of the media center in Homs, is being held in a secure military unit in Aleppo since his detention Wednesday. Syrian authorities have not responded to requests for comment.
Rafif Jouejati, spokesman for the opposition Local Coordination Committees, said that recently a sniper shot dead an activist hiding under a car to film columns of smoke rising from a building that had been shelled.
"Perhaps this is the regime's rationale: If they can't crush dissent using brute force, maybe killing all those who document the brute force will be effective," she said.
Foreign news outlets have been severely limited during the government's bloody year-long crackdown against protesters. Critics say that the government has been dutifully working to stifle such independent reporting.
U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan to end the crisis addresses the issue. He called on the government "to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non- discriminatory visa policy for them."
Amateur videographers and news reporters dubbed "citizen journalists" have braved violence to undermine the government's news coverage restrictions.
They have helped those international journalists who were able to sneak into Syria and report. And they have produced videos, photos and print reports every day that bear witness to the brutal crackdown.
Those reports have helped news outlets around the world tell the story of the violence.
Paul Conroy, a British photographer who was injured in the Baba Amr offensive, said the regime is taking steps "to ensure that independent reporting becomes impossible."
He said Othman helped him escape from Baba Amr, hammered for weeks by the military until resistance fighters retreated. Activists say other parts of the city continue to be shelled.
"After the attack and treatment of the wounded he played a significant role in assisting in our escape from Baba Amr. …