Syrian Refugee Activist And Her Daughter Brutally Murdered In Turkey
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Two prominent Syrian activists living in Istanbul were murdered in their apartment last week, and it's not clear who did it or why. But the killings of Orouba Barakat and her daughter, Hala, have worried many Syrian refugees in Turkey. They suspect supporters of the Syrian government are trying to stifle dissent even outside that country's borders. NPR's Peter Kenyon spoke with people at the funeral this weekend.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Praying in Arabic).
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The midday call to prayer sounds as family and friends of the Barakats gather at Istanbul's Fatih Mosque. Two caskets are draped in Syrian flags. On a bench nearby, Orouba Barakat's sister, Shaza, accepts condolences. She says the family's troubles began decades ago. Some had to leave the country when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, was in power. No suspects have been named in the killings, but Shaza Barakat is convinced her sister and niece were killed for speaking on behalf of what she called wounded Syria.
SHAZA BARAKAT: (Through interpreter) We paid a high price. We suffered displacement, torture. We no longer have a country. But Orouba - she stood against all that, defending people's rights and demanding justice. We are people. We have human rights, and we deserve justice.
KENYON: Sixty-year-old Orouba Barakat was known for her work documenting atrocities carried out in Syrian prisons. It was the kind of work that led some Syrians to hope that senior members of the Assad government might someday face war crimes charges. Family friend Fatima Hussein says Orouba had received threats because she was exposing the brutal face of the regime.
FATIMA HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) She was getting these threats because Orouba and her daughter were more dangerous than an army standing against the tyrant regime because she was showing in documentaries what the regime did to people under arrest. She was stronger than an army.
KENYON: We didn't think they would kill a journalist, says Hussein. But they did kill her, referring to 23-year-old Hala Barakat. A U.S. citizen, she worked for Orient News, a regional broadcaster with a pro-opposition editorial line. It could be that ISIS emerges as a suspect. Before this, there were four Syrian journalists killed in Turkey, all down near the border with Syria and all claimed by Islamic State. A friend of Hala's from her college days, Ahmed Faisal, says he can't recall seeing Hala without a smile on her face. And yet she was relentless in her focus on the Syrian revolution even as others grew tired of the long-running conflict.
AHMED FAISAL: She never stopped talking about the Syrian revolution, the Syrian situation - talking and doing something. She always tried to do something, and she did. She did a lot.
KENYON: The Barakat family has known tragedy before this. In 2015, relative Deah Barakat, his wife and sister-in-law were shot and killed in Chapel Hill, N.C. After the latest killings in Istanbul, relative Suzanne Barakat posted on her Facebook account, we are not safe anywhere.
KENYON: At the funeral, I noticed a young woman sobbing behind large, dark glasses. She gave her name as Sarah Leila, and she worked with Hala Barakat at Orient News. She says she used to tease her about all the Syria stories she did. Did she think they would make any difference? She says Hala never stopped smiling but told her she was a coward.
Now Syrian journalists and activists in Turkey, Lebanon and beyond may be wondering if this was just a random act of violence or a message aimed at anti-regime voices in the large and growing Syrian diaspora. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.