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Syria/Turkey: Syrian human rights defenders Orouba Barakat and Halla Barakat murdered in Istanbul

2017-10-10

Update: Syria: A distant relative was arrested on 30 September in the murder of Orouba Barakat and Halla Barakat earlier that month in Istanbul. The motive appears to be financial, according to the confessions of the relative, and GCHR urges the Turkish authorities to investigate thoroughly and hold the perpetrator(s) fully accountable.

2017-09-26

Syrian human rights defender Dr. Orouba Barakat and her Syrian-American daughter Halla Barakat were murdered in Turkey because of their human rights work and journalism, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). The bodies of the two women, who are mother and daughter, were discovered by the Turkish police in their apartment in Istanbul on 22 September 2017 after they were reported missing. They had been strangled and their faces had been mutilated by knives.

The Turkish authorities have announced nothing about the identities of the killers, but highlighted that the crime is a direct result of the Barakat’s activities as citizen journalists.

Dr. Orouba Barakat (60 years old) was born in Idlib, Syria and lived in exile since the 80s because of her strong opposition, in her articles and writings, against policies of the Syrian government. In particular, she protested the employment of military forces to end the political violence in Hama on 02 February 1982, when thousands of innocent civilians were either killed or injured. She sought asylum in many countries including the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and lately Turkey. According to news reports, she was recently investigating torture in Syrian prisons.

Halla Barakat (23 years old) was born in the United States of America and was influenced by her mother’s activism at a very young age. She worked as a journalist, including as a freelancer for the US-based ABC News, and worked previously for TRT World in Turkey. She produced many media reports and documentaries about jails and secret detention centres in Syria. Also, she collected testimonies from ex-detainees.  

Due to a long history of opposition to successive Syrian governments, it is feared that the Barakats were assassinated by Syrian authorities. Dr. Barakat’s sister posted on Facebook: “The hand of tyranny and injustice assassinated my sister Doctor Orouba and her daughter Halla in their apartment in Istanbul.”

GCHR is deeply concerned about the safety of Syrian human rights defenders and citizen journalists who are at risk of targeting and assassination whether residing in Syria or outside of the country, as witnessed with the murder of many other Syrian journalists and rights defenders in Turkey.

GCHR urges the authorities in Turkey to:

  1. Continue the investigation into the murder of Orouba and Halla Barakat until the perpetrators and instigators are known; and
  2. Guarantee the physical safety and security of all Syrian human rights defenders and journalists in Turkey.

GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters" and to Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”