BEIRUT: A prominent Syrian media activist in Aleppo has become the latest victim of kidnapping by masked gunmen, pro-opposition activists said over the weekend.
They said Abdel-Wahab Malla was taken away by unknown gunmen late Thursday, in the latest incident targeting civilian activists, particularly those in the media sector.
The Aleppo-based Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) said journalists in Syria were facing the dual threat of being targeted by the regime, “trying to impose its sole version of the truth,” as well as by “armed jihadist gangs ... who exploit the chaos of war.”
Malla, 25, was seized from his home in the Masaken Hanano neighborhood of Aleppo, which is outside government control, the SCM said.
Malla is one of the creators of the radio series “Three-Star Revolution,” whose multiple episodes have tackled various aspects of the crisis in Syria, with a focus on his native Aleppo.
The episodes, which have been broadcast on YouTube, feature sardonic commentary on current events by Malla in his thick Aleppine accent, along with interviews with residents of Syria’s former commercial metropolis.
Malla also recently penned a sarcastic song on the long-promised Geneva peace conference.
Three-Star Revolution is produced by the opposition Halab News network, which Malla helped found, and has been broadcast on half a dozen pro-uprising satellite television channels.
The SMC urged the parties “exercising control over the city of Aleppo” to make efforts to secure Malla’s release and said they would be held responsible for his safety.
A number of pro-opposition media outlets and social media platforms mentioned that a recent episode of Three-Star Revolution tackled the difference between an Islamic caliphate and a modern, “civil” state.
Malla’s comic take on the differences featured street interviews with residents of Aleppo who didn’t have distinct views on what each concept meant.
Malla adopted an independent political stance, often arguing that disputes over Syria’s political future were less important than ensuring the uprising achieve its aim of toppling the regime.
Activists have blamed the hard-line jihadist group the Islamic State for Iraq and Greater Syria for either kidnapping or killing media professionals recently.
But a media activist from Aleppo, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that while some people were focusing on the content of Malla’s radio program, his other organizational activities were also worth noting.
“Abu Steif is a very energetic activist,” he said. “He has played a huge role in the [pro-opposition] media of Aleppo, and he was instrumental in the recent establishment of the Union of Aleppo Media Professionals, in order to secure protection for them.”
The need for such a body, the activist continued, became even more urgent after last month’s murder of Mohammad Said, a part-time correspondent for Al-Arabiya television. Said was killed by a gunman wielding a silencer-equipped pistol in the Aleppo province town of Hreitan late last month.
The news of Malla’s kidnapping coincided with the weekend discovery of the body of Samira Kayyali, a young activist in Aleppo who had been kidnapped some six weeks earlier.
The activist confirmed the news that the hard-line Nusra Front announced this weekend it had captured a number of “fighters” who were possibly involved in the kidnapping and or killing of nearly a dozen activists, including Kayyali.
“They say that they are still conducting investigations, so there aren’t any more details to be had. But most of the missing activists were from the media sector,” he said.
Kayyali disappeared near the Turkish border and was active in producing television reports for civilian opposition groups in rebel-held parts of Aleppo.
Episodes of Three-Star Revolution and songs by Abdel-Wahab Malla