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Death of Syrian journalist arrested in 2012 finally confirmed

Relatives identified Nabil Churbajie's body two years ago among photos smuggled out of Syria, but only got official confirmation last week
Churbajie, a founding member of a local news site in his hometown, takes part in an anti-government protest in Darayya (Enab Baladi)

Tributes have poured in for a Syrian journalist arrested in 2012, whose death in prison was confirmed to relatives last week.

Nabil Churbajie was a founding member of the news site Enab Baladi, which provided local and national news from Darayya, a small town close to the capital Damascus that was evacuated in August 2016 after months of siege by pro-government forces.

Churbajie was arrested on 26 February 2012 as he walked to a friend’s house. Earlier in the day, he had posted a video on YouTube showing anti-government activists in Deraa burning a draft copy of a new constitution proposed by president Bashar al-Assad.

Syrians had voted on the new constitution draft in that day’s constitutional referendum – the vote, which was not observed by international monitors, returned a result of over 89 percent support for the new constitution, and it was signed into force on the following day.

His last Facebook post before his arrest read: “I swear we will not be silent in the face of the oppression or murder of any person. We are prepared to die for this cause, because we love Syria and we will sacrifice ourselves for it.

“We reject the use of murder to silence people – we are fighting for a nation with laws and a free judiciary.”

Churbajie was imprisoned alongside other well-known activists and opponents of the government.

Whilst detained in Adra Prison on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, Churbajie wrote the names of fellow prisoners in blood on a piece of fabric from a detainee’s shirt.

The shirt was smuggled out by fellow prisoner and human rights activist Mansour Omari, who was released in February 2013.

Translation: Fabric from the shirt of a prisoner, which Nabil Churbajie wrote on in blood before his death, writing the names of prison mates. The fabric was brought out of the prison by Mansour Omari.

Churbajie’s family first received official confirmation of his death in custody last week.

However, his relatives had earlier identified his picture among a cache of 11,000 photos secretly smuggled out of Syria by an army photographer who defected to the opposition.

The photographer, codenamed Caesar, photographed the bodies of thousands of people who died under torture in government prisons, before escaping the country to live in secrecy as an exile in Europe.

He published his cache of over 11,000 photos in 2014. Since then, many families have discovered pictures of their relatives among the dead and identification efforts are ongoing.

Mohammed Issa, a relative of Churbajie, wrote after confirmation of his death that “all [the family] knows is that he died in May 2015.

“May God grant him to rest in peace, and give strength to our hearts.”

Mohja Kahf, a Syrian poet living in the US and a friend of Churbajie’s, wrote a poem describing the mysterious circumstances of his death.

“Not even death allowed dignity / Not even mourning allowed clarity / Not even a period to put at the possible end of the beautiful life / Of a beautiful friend.”

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