The Cutline

Wounded in Syria, journalists Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy plead for help in YouTube videos

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

Two French journalists wounded in the Syrian attack that killed Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik posted a pair of YouTube videos on Thursday, pleading for help from their government.

Edith Bouvier, a reporter for the French newspaper Le Figaro, and Paul Conroy, a freelance photographer, asked to be allowed to leave the city of Homs, where the attack occurred. Other activists who spoke in the video appealed to the French government and Red Cross to evacuate them.

Conroy said they had been injured in the "rocket attack" that killed Colvin and Ochlik, and were being treated by a local medical team. He added that they were not being held captive, but that Bouvier, in particular, was in need of extensive medical attention.

On Thursday, local activist Omar Shakir told the New York Times that the Syrian Army had blocked the road to Homs, preventing aid from reaching the wounded journalists and effectively thwarting any attempted evacuation.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the attacks, demanding that the Syrian government allow medical aid to reach the wounded journalists, and called for an immediate evacuation of the dead and injured.

The danger for journalists in Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks.

CPJ, which began monitoring journalists' deaths in 1992, had never recorded the death of a journalist in Syria until late last year, when two freelance cameramen were killed in separate incidents in November and December. In total, five journalists, including Colvin and Ochlik, have been killed there since January.

"The death toll tells the story," Robert Mahoney, CPJ's deputy director, told Yahoo News in a phone interview from Cairo. "It's a classic siege. In certain parts of the city, you have the Syrian army targeting civilians. And for journalists who want to tell that story, they have to live and work among them. You are vulnerable."

Of the seven journalists killed in Syria, six have perished in Homs.

Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who had been with the group in Homs last week, told London's Telegraph that Syrian forces had threatened to kill journalists there.

"A few days ago we were advised to leave the city urgently and we were told, 'If they find you they will kill you,'" Perrin said. "I then left the city with the journalist from the Sunday Times, but then she wanted to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place."

Perrin said he was told the Syrian Army "issued orders to 'kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil.'"

Stephen Starr, an Irish freelance journalist and author of an upcoming book on the Syrian uprising, just returned from the region after living there for more than five years.

"The reason journalists are being killed in Homs is because they are working among insurgents and fighters who are opposing the regime," Starr, a contributor to the Irish Times, Guardian and Washington Post, wrote in an email to Yahoo News. "The regime thoroughly believes it is locked in a battle against armed gangs (and to some extent, it is.) It believes it must wipe out these gangs in order to maintain stability across the country."

Star said the Syrian regime views journalists reporting from the region--especially those who entered illegally--as being there at their own risk. "It's likely the regime saw communications infrastructure on the roof of the building Colvin and others were working from," said Starr, "and targeted it as they believed fighters were coordinating with others in Lebanon to get arms into the country."

Commenting on recent deaths, the Syrian foreign ministry released a statement on Thursday urging foreign journalists to "respect the laws regulating journalistic work in Syria and avoid breaching laws and entering the Syrian territories illegally to access turbulent and unsafe places."

"There's a news blackout," Mohoney of CPJ said. "The Syrian government has tried to control the news, selectively allowing foreign journalists in and then monitoring them when they are in."

But even that can backfire tragically. In January, Gilles Jacquier, a French journalist, was killed in a mortar attack on a government sanctioned tour.

Mahoney noted that Syria is "definitely the most dangerous hotspot to report from now," but cautioned against making broad comparisons. "In Syria, you have a different set of concerns than, say, Afghanistan," he said. "You're not under siege working in Kabul, but you can be killed by a roadside bomb."

In an appearance on CNN just hours before her death, Colvin told Anderson Cooper that threats against civilians by the Syrian government were becoming serious.

"It's a complete and utter lie they're only going after terrorists," Colvin said. "The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."

Later, Cooper asked Colvin to compare the situation in Syria to other conflicts she'd covered.

"This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons," Colvin said. "The last--I think the last time we talked when I was in Misrata. It's probably personal safety, I guess. There's nowhere to run. The Syrian army is holding the perimeter."

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