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Syrian Stories: Armed with a Mic and Camera

On April 25, 2011, a man held up a video camera in Deraa. He was not an experienced videographer and he did not have a tripod.He stood in front of a group of Syrian army soldiers with tanks and filmed them shooting their machine guns towards civilian targets. Each time he watched the clip on his laptop, he noticed the footage was shaky due to his trembling hand, so he would go back to his exposed vantage point to film once more.

Written by Amal Hanano Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

He did this 24 times before he made this passably stable clip:

His name was Mohamed “Abu al-Nimer” Masalmeh.

On January 18, 2013 – after 22 months of reporting as a citizen journalist from Deraa – he was killed by army snipers in the village of Busra al-Harir.

He was armed with a microphone and his camera.

Once, before the revolution ignited from his home city, Mohamed, 32, had been detained for four months in the Air Force intelligence center in Damascus.

He was released during the first weeks of the Arab Spring in time to witness an ousted dictator in Tunisia and a roaring Tahrir Square threatening Mubarak.

A group of underground activists, including Mohamed, began meeting at a farm to discuss how to begin a similar revolution in Syria.

As they did, 15 schoolboys — influenced by both their older brothers’ secret discussions and the protests in Egypt and Libya — famously wrote on school walls in Deraa, an event many call the official start of the uprising.

“The people want to topple the regime,” they scrawled. They were arrested and tortured.

On Wednesday, March 15, 2011, Mohamed joined a group of 30 men to protest the schoolboys’ arrest in Deraa’s main square, in front of the courthouse.

Intelligence officers had already heard about the plan, and swarmed the area. The protest was silently aborted. On March 18, they tried again, this time emerging from the Hamza and Abbas Mosque after Friday prayers, chanting: “freedom, freedom, freedom!”

Thousands joined them. Security forces opened fire, two protesters were killed, and a revolution was born.

Mohamed picked up a camera to film the events unfolding in the city. He joined the growing Sham News Network (SNN) as a citizen journalist.

His reports were tributes to the destruction of his city. He took to wearing disguises during his television reports: a black wig; a scarf; large sunglasses.

But this son of Deraa, with his round face and kind eyes, was known to his city and to the circling shabiha. He was a wanted man.

Last year, Mohamed began reporting for Al-Jazeera. He felt Deraa had been forgotten in the media as violence raged across the country.

His reports from the ground exposed the suffering of southern Syria.

A week before his death, his wife returned to Deraa to visit him. They took walks on the snow-covered streets and he drew a heart in the snow.

Her name meant loyalty. Her husband was known for his generosity, often returning home with emptied pockets after walking the city’s streets.

Although he was the city’s most prominent media activist, he never upgraded his old Nokia phone.

“This phone understands me and I understand it,” he told people.

Mohamed once said that he thanked God “that I was blessed to be one of the men to leave the Hamza and Abbas Mosque chanting, ‘freedom.’”

He insisted on mentioning martyrs’ names in his reports, lest anyone forget, including the names of other sons of Houran: Ali Masalmeh, Mahmoud Jawabrah and Husam Abd al-Wali Ayyash.

When four Shaam journalists were killed in May 2012 in Damascus, Mohamed protested in Deraa, without a disguise, holding a sign that read, simply: “We are all Sham.”

In his last few weeks, his friends begged him to leave Deraa; it had become too dangerous. He replied, “I’ll leave, but first I need to go to Busra al-Harir so I can rest.”

Busra al-Harir, 50 kilometers east of Deraa, was the site of intense fighting between Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces and the Syrian rebels.

In his final video, below, he stands on a street corner with armed Free Syrian Army fighters.

He is unarmed, in regular clothes, holding a microphone with a makeshift Al-Jazeera logo. A fighter tests the situation and darts across the street first. He arrives safely to the other side.

Mohamed is next; he is visibly nervous. He puts his head down and runs. Three shots break the silence. Three bullets catch him before he reaches to safety. He falls; his body convulses. The video ends.

Mohamed was shot twice in the torso and once in his leg. There were no doctors or an adequate medical facility to treat him. He bled to death.

Deraa paused one day in January to mourn a man who had finally found a place to rest.

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