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Syria Feature: The Life and Death of a Citizen Journalist (Hanano)

Amal Hanano writes for Syria Deeply:

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.

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.

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