Raed Fares

Thanks in large part to the work of Raed Fares, the town of Kafranbel, Syria became the creative centre and conscience of the revolution against Bashir al-Assad.

Raed played a crucial role in the non-violent opposition movement by kick-starting the country’s first independent media and suffered several assassination attempts before he was finally killed on 23 November, 2018. His friend and fellow activist Hamoud Juneid also died during the attack, in which unknown assailants in a van shot at the two men with machine guns.

A journalist and community organiser, Raed was skilled at transmitting news and analysis to the wider world, often pointing out the parallels between events abroad and at home with tweets such as “We stand in solidarity with the oppressed who cannot breathe #blacklivesmatter.” He was published by a variety of international outlets and described the impetus for his human rights work in a recent editorial for the Washington Post.

I started Radio Fresh in 2013 as a local station based in my home town of Kefranbel to reach audiences in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hamah provinces. It was crucial that the Syrian people receive independent news about what was going on in their country, and there was no other station of that kind at that time.

As a journalist and activist, I felt I had a duty to counter the fundamentalist narratives that are spreading among people who have no other source for hope in our war-torn homeland.

The Syrian conflict escalated in part because terrorists are winning an ideological battle for Syria’s soul. The people in villages like Kefranbel, especially the children, have been living in an environment of war, hate, violence and scenes of bloodshed for more than six years. In the absence of peaceful, democratic political voices, terrorists have been able to convince Syria’s vulnerable youth that violence and destruction can somehow pave the way to stability. Civil society groups and independent media are working tirelessly to oppose these messages – in ways that resonate with local audiences. Syria’s democratic future relies on our success.

An interview with the BBC explored the way in which humour fuelled Raed’s activism. Explaining his radio show’s odd audio tracks, he said “They tried to force us to stop playing music on air. So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them.” He even joked about a gunshot to the chest that nearly killed him: “I still have trouble breathing, but my doctor says my lungs should be no problem because of the size of my nose.” However, Raed was intimately acquainted with death and fully understood how risky his work was. Later on in the interview he said “They’ve tried to kill me five times already. If it happens, it happens. But they haven’t succeeded yet. I try to survive, but if I can’t, it’s OK.”

The lowest point in his life came when one of his closest friends was killed and another severely injured by a bomb. Fares admitted that he nearly took his own life in the days that followed, but eventually became more determined than ever to carry on.

“We started the revolution together and were all aware that we faced the same risks,” he said “That means that my life isn’t more expensive than my friends who lost their lives.”

Fares’ last post was the video of a protest in his home-town, captioned with the words “The people of Kafranbel are in Huriyah [Freedom] Square and voices are chanting: The people want the downfall of the regime. We started this in 2011 and we are continuing on. Our loyalty to the martyrs and detainees has increased our determination.”


Personal Recollections

Speech by Raed Fares – edited from his speech to the Oslo Peace Forum


I am Raed Fares I am the manager of Radio Fresh. I am the man who shot the video you just watched. It was very easy to get to the place you just saw and film the sound and pictures. But what was not possible to show you was the smell that gets to you when you arrive in such a place. It is the smell of burned blood – burned vegetables – the smell of corpses – the smell of weapons – the smell of 50 years of pain and oppression marked in my memory. Every time I pass this place I get the same smell.

The question is –  was it all worth starting a revolution and confronting Bashar al Assad ?

It was indeed important –  and I will tell you why. Let’s go back to 1979. I was a child – 7 years old. I was watching through the window of our home. My neighbour’s house was surrounded by 50 security men. When he tried to escape they followed him – killed him and threw his body in a car.

In 1982, I was a ten year old kid. I saw people from Hama coming to our village. Men, women, children. I asked the kids who were my age what happened. They told me about a massacre committed in Hama hy Hafez al Assad. He killed more that 40,000 Syrian citizens and displaced the rest.

In 2000, the dictator Hafez Al Assad died. Was it possible that my dream was going to come true – a dream where I see a new Syrian president – a president different to the one I had known for 28 years.

However within 45 minutes the parliament held a session – amended the constitution and so –  the dictator’s son became president at the age of 34.

So we came back to square one – the same regime – the same Assad farm where we aren’t just slaves – but animals.

In 2011 kids from a school in Daraa wrote anti-Assad messages on the walls. They were arrested and tortured. The people in Daraa started the revolution.  In Kafrandel we decided that we would not leave Daraa to fight alone – and on 01 April 2011 we stood up and chanted – for the first time in 50 years.

We broke the barrier of fear and we won. On 01 April we decided that we didn’t want to be animals any more. And because there was no free media to tell the story we had to do it ourselves.

I documented the protests and the regime’s violations. And since there was no free media we had to write our demands on banners and posters. The regime fought us in every way imaginable – bullets tanks, planes, artillery, chemical weapons.

They tried to shoot me – like, 60 bullets against me. Three were in my chest and my shoulder. It took me, like, three months to recover. I came here, to the United States, just to recover. And that was ISIS.

But after that, Jabhat al-Nusra tried to bomb my car. And I was in it, but I survived. And December, 2014, Jabhat al-Nusra, they kidnapped me from their checkpoint, and I spent three days in their jail.

They hanged me to the ceiling for six hours. But an activist in Istanbul, he came and talked to them and convinced them to release me. And earlier this year, they attacked my Radio Fresh station and attacked the Women’s Center, which belongs to us.

And, you know, you have to face all of that while you are fighting against Assad and the terrorism.

Yeah, from handcuffs with chain to the ceiling. I imagined all what’s happened with me the five years in the revolution in that six hours.

I promise you, if Assad had had chemical weapons he would have used them against his own people. Every day there were massacres of between 10 and 50 people.

But we will persist in our revolution until we realize our dream of a democratic Syria for all.

If you would like to provide a personal recollection, please email us at: HRDMemorial@frontlinedefenders.org






Date of Killing:23/11/2018

Previous Threats:Yes

Type of Work:Journalist/communicator

Organisation:Radio Fresh; the Kafranbel Media Centre

Sector or Type of Rights the HRD Worked On:Civil and Political Rights, ESC Rights

Sector Detail:Abuse of power/corruption, Documenting rights in conflict, Peace Building

More information:Front Line Defenders

1This database records an individual's chosen gender identity. If they do not self-identify as male or female they can use the option of recording other/neither or use the term NBGI (non binary gender identity).