Syrian journalists work tirelessly to cover their country’s protracted civil war while struggling to survive and lacking basic necessities.
“Topping our list of concerns is the fear of dying from a shell, or from a bullet – stray or intended,” says Lina al-Hakim, a Syrian journalist reporting on the humanitarian situation in the country’s largest city Aleppo.
The western part of the city where she is based is under the control of the Assad regime and subject to almost daily shelling by the armed opposition.
Lina al-Hakim faces the same difficulties as the rest of Syria’s population: from water shortages and power cuts to inflation and the intermittent availability of essential foodstuffs and fuel.
“Everything is vague and obscure”
Beyond securing the basic necessities of life, practicing her profession also presents challenges on a daily basis, says Lina al-Hakim. Obtaining accurate information about the latest developments in the conflict is a major challenge, she says.
“Everything is vague and obscure. Rumours spread like wildfire, and even when you’re right on the scene when something is happening you find yourself unsure of exactly how it happened.
“Each person has their own story about what really happened, about the number of casualties, and there are no official sources you can speak to or get information from.
“Today, the street is the source of all news.”
Power cuts and constant connection breakdowns
Lina al-Hakim’s daily search for the truth, and her insistence on conveying the facts as comprehensively as possible, requires interviewing citizens caught in the heat of the conflict who are often afraid to speak out.
“People shy away from recorded interviews because they are afraid of surveillance by the security forces,” says Lina al-Hakim.
With electricity only sparsely and sporadically available, producing and disseminating the news on a regular basis seems like an almost insurmountable challenge.
“There is the continuous interruption of the internet, and the difficulty of using mobile phones within the city because of the weak network.
“This makes it hard to both obtain the information I need and to transmit it to the world,” says Lina al-Hakim.
The names of certain areas and streets in Aleppo have felt the effects of war and destruction.
Part of the Sulaimaniya neighbourhood is now dubbed Mortar Square, because of the heavy shelling it receives.
The Jamiliya neighbourhood also comes under heavy bombardment, mostly by what is known as Hell’s Canon, improvised rockets mounted with gas canisters and used by opposition fighters.
“Both parts of the city suffer from rampant kidnappings”
Aleppo’s unrelenting traffic jams caused by numerous army checkpoints make it almost impossible for journalists to move around, as well as restricting the movement between the two halves of the city, which are controlled by the regime and opposition forces respectively.
Both parts of the city suffer from rampant kidnappings, and journalists are particularly in danger of being abducted by various Islamic factions, such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), says Lina al-Hakim.
As the civil war in Syria rages on, local journalists and media workers like Lina al-Hakim continue to strive to provide the Syrian population with accurate information on the conflict.
Their work often takes place without their relatives’ knowledge, due to fears it may make life even more difficult for the entire family, if a journalist is detained or kidnapped, says Lina al-Hakim.
“In the shadow of all these challenges, there is still the huge pain of watching one’s city, one’s country, burn, destroyed before one’s very eyes,” says Lina al-Hakim.