Award-winning Palestinian photographer ‘dies in Syria jail’

Soldiers walk past damaged buildings in Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, Syria. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 16 July 2018
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Award-winning Palestinian photographer ‘dies in Syria jail’

  • Niraz Saied was arrested by security forces in October 2015

BEIRUT: An award-winning Palestinian-Syrian photographer who documented life in the Yarmuk refugee camp in southern Damascus has died after nearly three years in regime detention, his partner said on Monday.
Niraz Saied, who himself hailed from the Palestinian camp, was arrested by security forces in October 2015.
His longtime partner, Lamis Alkhateeb, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Saied had died while in detention. He was believed to be 27 years old.
“There’s nothing harder than writing these words, but Niraz doesn’t die in silence,” wrote Alkhateeb, who lives in Germany.
“They killed my darling, my husband, my Niraz — they killed you, my soul. Niraz died in the Syrian regime’s prisons,” she wrote.
It was not clear how Alkhateeb had learned of Saied’s death, and she did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for additional comment.
Their relationship had formed part of the 2014 film “Letters from Yarmuk,” which featured clips filmed by Saied of daily life in the battered, besieged camp.
That same year, Saied won a photography competition run by the United Nations’ Palestinian agency (UNRWA) with a snapshot titled “The Three Kings.”
It depicted the downtrodden faces of three brothers waiting to be evacuated from the camp for medical treatment.
“You can’t find a complete family in the refugee camp,” Saied said after winning the award.
“I used to feel that in every portrait of a Palestinian family you could see the shadow of a person missing, and that is why my photos are dimly lit. But there is always hope.”
Yarmuk was once a thriving southern district of Syria’s capital home to more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees as well as Syrians.
Syria’s government imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012 and activists inside — including Saied — documented the dire humanitarian situation with photographs of gaunt families waiting for aid.
The Daesh group overran the camp in 2015. In May, after a blistering government assault, the ruins of the camp returned to government control.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been forcibly disappeared since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011, the vast majority by government forces.
Rights groups have accused the regime of large-scale torture and extrajudicial killing in its prisons.
Families of detainees often hear nothing after the arrest, but in recent months some are discovering their detained relatives have been officially registered as deceased.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said that within less than a month, some 28 families were either informed their detained relative was dead or told to come retrieve the body.
Hundreds more discovered their relative was recorded as “deceased” by government agencies while filing other kinds of paperwork.
Saied’s childhood friend Ahmad Abbasi described him as “the finest person I knew.”
“In the early days of his detention, we heard that he was still alive. Then we didn’t know anything.”


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 25 April 2019
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.