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PEN pays tribute to Marie Colvin, Remi Ochlik and Ramy al-Sayed, journalists killed in Syria

Thursday 23 February 2012 - 12:00am

"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you." Marie Colvin in a speech made at St Bride’s Church, London, 10 November 2010, in honour of war wounded.

Yesterday, 22 February, we saw the loss of one of the world’s most respected war correspondents, Marie Colvin, killed under bombardment in the Syrian city of Homs. She was among scores of people killed that day under government forces shelling across Syria, among them the French photographer, Remi Ochlik, who died alongside her, and the Syrian citizen journalist Ramy al-Sayed, who died on 21 February after he was injured whilst filming during a shelling attack in the same area.

Colvin, aged 56, a journalist for the Sunday Times, had gained enormous respect across the globe during her 30 years as a reporter, for her work in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones – East Timor, Libya, Palestine, Kosovo, Chechnya among others. She lost an eye in Sri Lanka in 2001 after being hit by shrapnel. Ochlik, aged 28, was an experienced war photographer who had covered the recent uprisings in North Africa. Both had been inside a makeshift media centre in the Baba Amr district of Homs. There are strong indications that the centre had been identified by Syrian security services and deliberately targeted. At least three other journalists were wounded in the attack, including French freelancer Edith Bouvier, who works for French news organizations including the newspaper Le Figaro. She is reported to be in serious condition.

The deaths of Colvin, Ochlik and Ramy al-Sayed are a reminder of the enormous risks that journalists take to bring to the public attention some of the most horrific crimes, particularly in times of war. In the past 10 years, over 900 journalists have been killed in the practice of their professions, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least seven journalists have been killed in Syria alone since July 2011. Over the past decade, many hundreds of reporters have lost their lives while reporting in conflict areas. As Colvin said in a speech to commemorate war wounded in November 2010: “We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

News agencies and social network sites are flooded with messages from friends and colleagues mourning Colvin’s loss. Particularly moving are those from colleagues who worked alongside her and testify to her bravery, and from people who had never met her, but whose plight Colvin had reported sometimes at extreme risk to herself. PEN International joins those voices, paying homage to Colvin’s courage and ultimate sacrifice. It extends its condolences to the friends and families of Remi Ochlik and Ramy al-Sayed. It calls on all governments to do their utmost towards bringing an end to the crisis in Syria and to take urgent action to end the war that has already led the deaths of thousands of men, women and children.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: