For a year, Waad al-Kateab has exposed the horrors of Aleppo. Now she is trapped there. We can only hope Syrian forces treat her and her fellow citizens properly, writes Channel 4 News Editor Ben De Pear.
A year ago Channel 4 News commissioned a young woman in Aleppo, Waad al-Kateab, to make a film about life inside the city. Her film about a teenager who was modelling the rebuilding of a dream Aleppo with cardboard, glue and bits of rubbish showed a rare scene of hope from within that shattered city.
As the horror of Aleppo deepened earlier this year, we took the decision to take Waad on as an exclusive film-maker for us and the results have been searing testaments to life under siege in the rebel held east of the country’s largest city. All year Waad has provided dozens of outstanding reports that have led and dominated our programme and have now been viewed hundreds of millions of times by people around the world. Her films can all be viewed at insidealeppo.com.
Much of what Waad provided was from the emergency room of the hospital where her doctor husband works, but it has not just been the screams of the injured and dying she has captured. She has done that most important thing in journalism: she humanised the victims, showed us whole families in their worst moments, chronicled their pain and showed the world the horror, without intruding, and with a skill it takes most decades to learn.
Now with the tide turning against the rebels there are many questions as to what is happening to those the government are capturing, whether civilians or fighters. Waad has been unable to leave the city for months, has a young child and is pregnant with another. Along with a quarter of a million other people, she is now at the mercy of the forces that surround her, but as a journalist and in the company of medical staff who have stayed simply to tend to the many injured and dying in Aleppo, we expect her, like everyone, to be extended the rights every citizen has. We expect that the government of Syria will protect the lives of civilians, especially non-combatants, medical staff, women and children, as it has repeatedly declared it will.
This week Waad won two Amnesty International awards, and in her absence sent these words to be read and shared.
“Maybe this will be my last letter to you and to the world. I am in the most dangerous city in the world and only today 30 barrel bombs and 100 artillery shells fell on my neighbourhood (al-Sukkari). I wanted to be with you but the siege of the city prevented that. I am just one individual among the 270,000 people who live under this siege. The only thing that’s available in this city is air, but this air, most of the time, is polluted with poisonous gases and chlorine. We are not the only city in Syria under siege and our salvation will not be achieved only by the lifting of this siege or halting the bombing, but with the fall of the Assad regime and getting our freedom and dignity as Syrians. I would have liked for my lens and my colleagues’ lenses to give you the complete picture of Aleppo, but we are helpless in front of the horrors of annihilation that the Russians and the regime are enjoying in this ancient city.
“This is a perished city called Aleppo. And all its people are asking you to remember your humanity.”