Citizen Journalists: Reporting from the Capital of ISIS

Abdel Aziz al-Hamza and Hussam Alissa join Imma Vitelli at Villa Sassetti on April 6 at 6 p.m. for the last of Vitelli’s Craft Talks on Journalism, “Citizen Journalists: Reporting from the Capital of ISIS.” Al-Hamza and Alissa are two of around 17 Syrian activists who helped found Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (R.B.S.S.) in April 2014, an underground citizen journalist group based in Raqqa, a city in northern Syria that has become the capital of ISIS. R.B.S.S. works to document life in Raqqa and has captured evidence of crucifixions, beheadings, sexual abuse and other violent acts. It serves as a source of information for the foreign press who are unable to have reporters on the ground in Raqqa.

The first R.B.S.S. reporter was executed in May 2014, one month after the organization formed. After this execution, many members of R.B.S.S fled to Europe. Al-Hamza escaped to Berlin and continues to monitor social media with information provided by those still living in Raqqa. Cameras have been placed in Raqqa to monitor these citizen journalists, and anyone suspected of working for R.B.S.S. is executed. Syria has been considered the most dangerous country in the world for journalists since 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, who honored the group with an International Press Freedom Award in 2015. Watch al-Hamza accept the award here:

R.B.S.S. publishes in both Arabic and English on its website, Twitter and Facebook pages, and also posts on YouTube. The New Yorker’s David Remnick wrote “Telling the Truth About ISIS and Raqqa,” which goes more in depth on the creation of R.B.S.S. and its mission.

Watch al-Hamza’s interview with Sky News:

Vitelli will follow the dialogue with her last writing workshop for students on April 7.

Vitelli received her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York, and is now an International Correspondent for Vanity Fair Italy. She has covered the 2006 33-day Israeli war against Lebanon, the Arab Spring in Tunisia, and conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Israel.

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