Raed Fares, the Syrian journalist and prominent activist who was fatally shot by armed gunmen in November 2018, is awarded the 2020 Courage in Journalism Award by the Legatum Institute.

Syrian journalist and activist Raed Fares receives 2020 Courage in Journalism Award

Raed Fares, founder and director of the independent Syrian radio station Radio Fresh, was shot and killed along with his colleague Hamoud al-Jnaid, by unknown gunmen on the 23rd November 2018, whilst on his way to cover a protest in Kafranbel, Syria. Fares had been targeted on numerous occasions before, having been abducted multiple times and tortured by al-Qaeda militants. In 2014 he survived an assassination attempt by members of the Islamic State, in which he sustained two bullet wounds to the chest.

Despite these attacks, he continued his work and remained a frequent critic of Islamist extremists in Syria. Fares was keenly aware of the risks he was taking but continued to use his voice to build the foundations for a free, democratic Syria.

The Courage in Journalism Award is given posthumously each year to a journalist who has been killed as a direct result of their work as a journalist. It was inaugurated following the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 as a way of honouring her death and continuing her legacy. Last year’s recipient was Jan Kuciak, a Slovakian investigative journalist whose death sparked political upheaval in Slovakia.

Raed Fares was a larger-than-life character who deployed a unique presenting style on Radio Fresh. One of his main weapons was humour, which he used to great effect in his opposition to the Assad regime. His unconventional approach to broadcasting was a sign of defiance against hardline Islamic factions who had demanded that he stopped playing music and stopped broadcasting female voices.

Prior to his death, he had also worked as a prominent activist, serving as Director of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, a collective of civil society organisations in Kafranbel that encompassed a wide range of projects including medical services, therapy for teenagers, women’s empowerment projects, and media training.

Media freedom around the world has been on a downward trajectory for many years. Data in the 2019 Prosperity Index shows that physical repression of journalists, government censorship of the press, and freedom of opinion and expression, are all at lower levels this year than they were ten years ago. Further, both Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders recently issued warnings over concerning trends in global media freedom.

Mike Thomson, BBC World Affairs Correspondent and one of the Courage in Journalism award judges, said: “Raed Fares is most certainly a very worthy recipient of this award. I had the privilege of getting to know him a little and was constantly inspired by his extraordinary courage and enduring optimism in the face of relentless threats to his life. He was well known for his use of wit and humour as both a broadcaster and protester, which he used to draw international attention to the continued violence in Syria. Fares knew the dangers he was in but never let these stop him.”

Nathan Gamester of the Legatum Institute commented: “With media freedoms continuing to be threatened and undermined around the world, it is essential to highlight the fundamental role that free and fair journalism plays in healthy societies. The Courage in Journalism Award seeks to shine a light on the dangers facing journalists and to recognise and remember those who have been killed for simply doing their job. In some countries, being a journalist is just about the most dangerous thing you can do; those same countries are usually the ones where citizens rely most on the information provided by journalists. This award honours the legacy of those who have paid the ultimate price in their pursuit of truth.”

In reviewing the journalists who were killed this year, it emerged that Mexico was the most dangerous place to be a journalist with 12 journalists having been killed between October 2018 and October 2019. The majority of these killings have not been investigated and it is unlikely that justice will be brought, with levels of impunity continuing to rise.