They honed their media skills secretly filming Daish group beheadings in Raqa. Now, these Syrian activists have become impromptu war reporters, covering the US-backed assault on their city from the ground.
“If the crack is sharp and the column of smoke goes straight up, it’s an air strike,” Syrian activist Tim Ramadan tells from Raqa, using a pseudonym and communicating through a Facebook profile that disguises his identity.
Every night, Ramadan discreetly turns on his internet satellite service, uploads his daily records from the battle-torn city to Europe-based colleagues at the “Sound and Picture” collective, then immediately deletes the messages.
Media networks including Sound and Picture are providing a rare window into life in Raqa, ravaged by fighting since the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces broke into the city on June 6.
They write stories on what it’s like for civilians to scavenge for food and water, publish footage of air strikes, and commemorate civilians killed in fighting.
“This is the only thing I can do right now — keep track of how many air strikes, shells, dead, wounded. Who was killed by a sniper, an air strike, or a mine. How many houses were destroyed,” Ramadan says.
Activists like him once solely focused on documenting the gruesome atrocities of Daish’s three-year-reign over the city.
But the assault on Raqa changed all that.
“We used to be afraid of being arrested (by the Daish) if we went out in the street. Now we’re afraid of going outside in case an artillery shell hits us. And if we don’t go out, we’re scared an air strike could flatten the whole house on top of us,” says Ramadan.
US-led coalition warplanes and SDF shelling have pounded Raqa, where up to 25,000 civilians still live after tens of thousands escaped. The SDF has captured around 65 per cent of Raqa, recently overrunning the strategic Old City.
“When the coalition and the SDF entered the scene, we had to document more. Daish wasn’t the only side killing civilians anymore,” Ramadan says.
Since Syria’s uprising began in 2011, citizen journalists have used cell phones and social media to document protests and violations by armed forces.
They adapted the same tools to document the Daish atrocities after it captured Raqa in 2014, with groups like Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently publishing footage of beheadings and rebel patrols.
When coalition air strikes on Raqa began in 2014, the city’s activists started to document those too.
But the activists say the real change in their work came when the SDF entered the city, prompting clashes that brought rampant power cuts and made moving around much more difficult.
“The Daish has actually lifted some of its restrictions on people because it’s busy with clashes,” says 21-year-old Mazen Hassoun, who manages news outlet Raqqa Post from Germany.