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Blood on Camera: 18-year-old Syrian Dies Covering the War for Reuters

Molhem Barakat, a freelance photographer working for Reuters, was reportedly killed while covering a fight between and Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and rebels in Aleppo’s Al-Kindi Hospital on December 20, 2013.

Aleppo Media Center’s Hassoun Abu Faisal told the Associated Press that Barakat died with his brother, a Free Syrian Army fighter, in a carpet factory near the hospital. His bloodied camera gear was found at the scene:

Abu Faisal also noted that Barakat only started to cover the war a few months ago, when he began freelancing with Reuters in May.

The Syrian teenager, who was born on March 8, 1995, according to his personal Facebook profile, told Prague-based photojournalist Stanislav Krupar when they met that Reuters paid him $100 for ten photographs a day and an extra $50–$100 if the New York Times Lens Blog chose any for Picture of The Day.

While Krupar said he believes Reuters provided Barakat with photo gear, he noted that Barakat had no “ballistic protection – no vest, no helmet.”

Reporting his death, Amman-based journalist Randa Habib said:

Echoing her stance, BBC Senior World Affairs Producer Stuart Hughes tweeted that Reuters responded nonchalantly to his questions regarding Barakat’s age and inexperience. He asked Reuters the following questions:

- There have been conflicting reports of Molhem's age ranging from 17 to 19. Are you able to clarify this?
- If not, how does Reuters respond to some reports that Molhem was 17 years old, and therefore a minor under UK and US law?
- What checks does Reuters carry out to verify the ages of young freelancers working in hostile environments?
- Is Reuters aware of whether Molhem Barakat had completed any hostile environment or first aid training. Was he equipped with personal protective equipment or a first aid kit?
- What it the current policy of Reuters on purchasing material from freelancers in Syria?

To which Reuters responded:

We are deeply saddened by the death of Molhem Barakat, who sold photos to Reuters on a freelance basis. To best protect the many journalists on the ground in a dangerous and volatile war zone, we think it is inappropriate to comment any further at this time.

Corey Pein, an American writer who lives in the UK, adds that while Reuters may have helped Barakat steer away from trouble, they cannot avoid questions about his death:

I know too that wars are messy, and if Molhem hadn’t been taking pictures, he may well have taken up arms. The Reuters team in Syria might have thought they were doing him a favor — and in some ways, I’m sure that they were.
That doesn’t mean the company gets to blow off questions about the circumstances leading up to this young man’s death.

British journalist and photographer Hannah Lucinda Smith, who interviewed Barakat in May for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat, said in a blog post that Barakat was confused as he went from being a “happy teenager to a messed up young man who, at one stage, was adamant that he wanted to join al-Qaeda [as a suicide bomber, but] started working as a photographer, hoping to emulate some of the journalists he was hanging around with.”

Molhem Barakat, self portrait, taken February 14, 2013 [photo source: Barakat's Facebook profile]

Molhem Barakat, self portrait, taken February 14, 2013 [photo source: Barakat's Facebook profile]

Lucinda Smith also said that his confusion perhaps stemmed from his inability to leave Aleppo:

In long conversations on Facebook I tried to persuade him to leave Aleppo and come to Turkey. He refused. He didn’t have a passport, and he didn’t have any money. His family were all still in Syria and he didn’t want to leave them or his friends.

However, she concluded that she hopes Reuters honors Barakat's life by taking responsibility for him:

I hope that they took responsibility for him in a way that I couldn’t, and I hope that if he was taking photographs as he died in the hope of selling them to that agency, they also take responsibility for him now.

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