Mourning the assassination of Syrian radio personality and activist 

November 27, 2018

Creative Associates International mourns the assassination of a prominent Syrian citizen journalist and radio visionary who was an active participant in an innovative stabilization program that was once implemented by the development organization. 

Creative President and CEO Leland Kruvant expressed his condolences to the family of the 46-year-old Raed Fares and the staff at Radio Fresh in Kafr Nabl, Syria. Fares and Syrian activist Hamoud Jneed were gunned down in a rebel-held northern part of Syria’s Idlib province on Nov. 23. 

“Raed and other operators of independent radio stations like Radio Fresh play a critical role countering violent extremist and providing reliable, accurate information to listeners in Syria,” says Kruvant, who visited several of the radio stations. “Raed’s activism and dedication to free and democratic Syria will be missed. However, his vision will not be extinguished by an assassin’s bullets.” 

Creative implemented a U.S. State Department program that supported 10 independent radio stations including Radio Fresh that transmitted news, information and discussions that countered messages by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and violent extremists. In addition to operational support, Creative measured market penetration, provided management assistance and trained journalists. Creative successfully managed the project from 2014 to 2016. 

Creative’s Jason Erb, a Middle East expert and supervisor of the Syria stabilization project that included the radio stations, knew Fares and the station he started in 2013. 

“He was among the first radio broadcasters the program supported, and in some ways the most creative,” Erb says. “Not only did he provide news and culture that was relevant to his local listeners, he struck out at both Assad and the extremists with humor. Raed even set up a basic air-warning system using spotters, walkie talkies and even old air sirens when he realized his radio station wasn’t reaching all people in the community.” 

In a 2015 interview in Turkey with Creative for a short documentary about the 10 radio stations supported by the U.S. State Department, Fares said he knew his life was in danger.  

“From the beginning, I expected death,” he told Creative in 2015. “I asked for freedom, and the person who is asking for his freedom should expect to sacrifice. I am asking for great outcomes.”

 

Syrian activist turns broadcaster

Fares did not start activism with a plan to build and run an opposition radio station. He sought to spread his message through traditional methods, such as organizing demonstrations against the regime in 2012 in public spaces in Idlib province. At times, Fares said, he drew some 5,000 people—but he wanted to reach a larger audience on a more consistent basis. 

“I thought of speaking in mosques, but this would not help me because I need to talk to people all day, and people during the day are busy, and [mosques are] crowded, so they would not be able to listen to me,” he told Creative in 2015. “I thought of magazines, but it would not reach all people.” 

Fares concluded he needed a different channel. 

“After a lot of thinking, I decided that I should have a radio station,” he said. “However, what is a radio station? What is the necessary equipment? How should the building be? What about the staff? All these questions, I had no idea about their answers.” 

Through a contact in Europe, in 2013 he raised 25,000 Euros, hired five people (none with radio experience), purchased equipment and started to broadcast six hours a day. A few months later, Radio Fresh’s staff grew to 12. By the time of the 2015 interview, Radio Fresh’s team had grown to 85 with professional programming that included news, radio dramas and talk shows. A companion website reached additional audiences. 

Creative’s Erb says that vision made a difference—and put a target on Fares. 

“Radio Fresh really became a pillar of secular moderate opposition in Syria, making Kafranbul, his home town, one of the few that successfully resisted both the regime and the extremists,” Erb says. “That’s why they tried repeatedly for years to kill him, he showed their shallowness and hypocrisy, showed what most Syrians really want, which is simply to be able to breathe and live, and for that, he was killed.” 

The short video documentary may be viewed here.  

Accepting the challenges, risks of his work

Fares knew that he was a target and had received frequent death threats.  

“I was under bombshells many times,” he told Creative in 2015. “I have escaped death many times – 22 times. I didn’t mention that because it was my daily routine. Every day there was a bombing, killing and every other thing. I told you that I started recently to become more afraid. In the office, in the radio, I started to feel afraid, especially during the night with the night raids by the planes. In the past, I didn’t feel that, but now I started to feel it.” 

On Jan. 29, 2014, terrorists managed to track down Fares and their bullets struck him. 

“It was a scary time,” Fares said in the 2015 interview with Creative. “If you are walking in the street at 1 a.m. and you saw a cat, you would be freaked out. When they came in front of me, I was not afraid because I was expecting them. The distance between us was three meters, and they shot me with 60 bullets; three of them entered my body. Seven bones were broken and my lung was punctured.” 

After surgeries and therapy in Europe and the United States, Fares returned to his duties at the radio station in Syria. The terrorists did not let up. 

“When I was leaving my office, there were two cars,” he said. “Suddenly, 30 meters away from the headquarters, there was an abnormal exploding and all the area went red. The engine of my car has been destroyed and the whole front. It was only one second between me and death.” 

Unfortunately, on Nov. 23, 2018, the terrorists did assassinate Fares. He leaves behind a wife and two sons. 

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A microphone at an opposition radio station reporting news and information to those inside Syria. Photo by David Snyder.

International condolences

Despite his tragic death, his colleagues have vowed to continue their daily broadcasts. News reports say more than 2,000 people turned out for his funeral. 

The U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Engagement, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, and Special Envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, issued a joint statement condemning the killing and celebrating the work of Fares and Jneed. 

“Raed and Hamoud never shied away from speaking the truth and upholding the original values of the revolution,” they said in the joint statement. “They lived as heroes and will live on as heroes in the hearts of the noble and sincere.” 

The State Department’s Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, added via Twitter: 

“We are saddened by the murder of #RaedFares in Idlib. He was a courageous activist for peace & a better future for Syrian people. He was also a longtime friend of @statedept Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family & the family of Hamud Junaid. They inspired.” 

The German Foreign Office issued a statement of condolence via Twitter, saying: 

“Devastated by the cowardly murder of Raed Fares in Syria today. Raed was a courageous activist against extremism and oppression and stood for non-violent political change. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family. Syria needs peace and a political solution at last!” the government said Nov. 23. 

France’s President also messaged his government’s condolences on Nov. 23: “Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneed were brutally murdered in Syria. They were the consciences of the revolution and stood up peacefully and courageously against the crimes of the regime and the terrorists. We will not forget the resistance of Kafranbel.” 

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