On December 20, CLBR will have our annual year-end Heroes and Zeros episode in which, with guests Brenda Christensen, Denise Howell and Dan Tynan, we highlight those doing wonderful things on the internet and those deserving a cyber lump of coal. This year, in order to give credit (and shame) where it is due, I am naming my hero and zero “nominees” individually and today’s heroes are the citizen journalists behind Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently which has been bravely chronicling the humanitarian crisis in Raqqa, Syria.
The group was awarded the International Press Freedom Award in 2015, from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The citation said in part “While RBSS was formed to document the atrocities of [ISIL], its members have also reported critically on the Assad government’s bombings, other rebel forces, and civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led airstrikes”. RBSS was given the 2016 Civil Courage Prize for “risking their lives on a daily basis to document the abuses of the Islamic State.”
RBSS operates in an increasingly dangerous world for citizen journalists as demonstrated by the Reporters Without Borders infographic below.
RBSS’ history is chronicled in the documentary “City of Ghosts,” which has been nominated for best documentary by the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards and the IDA Documentary Awards and has made year-end best lists including Esquire‘s.
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently
In April 2014, around 17 Syrian activists set out to document the abuses of Islamic State after the militant group took over and declared the northern city of Raqqa to be the caliphate’s capital. The activists, working anonymously for their safety, formed a group, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), which is one of the few reliable and independent sources of news left in the Islamic State stronghold. The group’s Raqqa-based members secretly film and report from within the city and send the information to members outside of Syria, who transfer the news to local and international media. Since its inception, RBSS has publicized public lashings, crucifixions, beheadings, and draconian social rules, thus providing the world with a counter-narrative to Islamic State’s slickly produced version of events.
RBSS has been declared an enemy of God by Islamic State, and at least two RBSS members have already paid the price with their lives. In October 2015, Ibrahim Abd al-Qader, an early member of RBSS, was killed by Islamic State operatives, along with his colleague Fares Hamadi, in an apartment in Urfa, southeastern Turkey. Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim was kidnapped by Islamic State and murdered in May 2014.
City of Ghosts
Directed, produced, and filmed by Academy Award–nominated and Emmy–winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman, City of Ghosts is a singularly powerful cinematic experience that is sure to shake audiences to their core as it elevates the canon of one of the most talented documentary filmmakers working today. Captivating in its immediacy, City of Ghosts follows the journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” – a handful of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014. With astonishing, deeply personal access, this is the story of a brave group of citizen journalists as they face the realities of life undercover, on the run, and in exile, risking their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
Annual Heroes and Zeros Show
Listen on Wednesday, December 20th at 1PM ET / 10AM PT on WebmasterRadio.fm as I discuss the Heroes and Zeros for 2017 with our special guests – Brenda Christensen, Denise Howell and Dan Tynan.