Five years ago, Syrian activist Raed Fares started organising protests in his town of Kafranbel, where he came up with innovative ways to call out the hypocrisy of the West. Using various forms of media, especially radio, he riffed on news coverage he disapproved of and focused on the suffering of ordinary Syrians.

With President Bashar al-Assad and his backers still largely in control of the country, some see last week's killing of Fares, as symbolic.

"The first wave of protest leaders were either dead or disappeared and in jail somewhere, or they had fled the country to seek safety in exile," says Rania Abouzeid, author of, No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria. "But Raed Fares was one of the few who remained in his country and who continued his work from inside Syria. And he paid with his life for that activism."

In most places, straddling the line between journalism and activism is problematic. Objectivity can suffer since audiences don't really know what they're getting. And calling the late Raed Fares a journalist would be inaccurate. There was too much activism in the work he did.

Free Syria has lost one of her greatest sons, Raed Fares."

Rami Fares, Radio Fresh

"One of the most important aspects of media work in the Syrian Revolution is this blurring of boundaries between journalism, activism, art-making and human rights work," explains Marwan Kraidy, a media scholar at Annenberg School. He dubs Fares as a "creative insurgent."

"When you are in a very dark, difficult situation where your survival cannot be taken for granted, you're not as concerned with the sort of strictly narrowly defined journalism focused on impartiality, on basic facts, as finding out how to survive and helping other people get information that helps them survive and Raed, in that sense, was what I called a creative insurgent."

Raed Fares started to make his mark in the Syrian media space in 2013, two years after the war broke out.

At the time Syrians in search of news were relying on TV channels coming out of Damascus, controlled by the Assad government, and pan-Arab news networks, some of which had their own dogs in the fight.

Fares' contribution to a media landscape that was mostly hi-tech, the TV news channels beaming in via satellite, the bloggers spreading information and misinformation over the internet was tactically low-tech.

The channel he helped create was called Radio Fresh.

What was interesting about his platform was that no one was immune from his criticism, whether it be the Americans, the Syrian regime, opposition groups or even al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.

Raed Fares also knew his audiences. His messages to the outside world, pleas for help were in English - splashed on banners - telegenic and designed for export via someone else's camera. Radio Fresh broadcasts in Arabic, to local listeners.

No one has claimed responsibility for Fares' murder but Hay'et Tahrir Al-Sham, a fundamentalist group formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda and is in control of Kafranbel is among the suspects.

Extremist groups had attacked the station before. They opposed its output and would have disapproved the way Radio Fresh was funded. The channel was launched with the help of US Department of State dollars and the US continued to bankroll it until the Trump administration halted the funding earlier this year.

"Raed Fares was an ideal. For seven or eight years, Raed worked to establish a moral and principled foundation for the revolution and to promote freedom of thought and expression," says colleague Rami Fares. "He is impossible to replace. We will continue his work and carry forward his message. But free Syria has lost one of her greatest sons, Raed Fares."


Marwan Kraidy - Media scholar, Annenberg School

Rami Fares - Radio Fresh

Joseph Daher - Blogger, Syria Freedom Forever and associate professor, University of Lausanne

Rania Abouzeid - Author of, No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria

Source: Al Jazeera