As It Happens

Slain Syrian broadcaster was 'the enemy of everyone — except the people,' says friend

Raed Fares, one of Syria's most prominent opposition activists and an independent radio host, was killed today.

Raed Fares, who ran rebel Radio Fresh station, gunned down in northern Syria

Raed Fares, left, station manager at Radio Fresh FM, which became a target of both Assad forces for its criticism of the regime, and jihadi militants, for playing music and broadcasting women's voices. (Raed Fares)
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​Raed Fares knew from his earliest days as an activist that his life was at risk, says his friend.

The Syrian opposition activist and radio host was killed in his hometown of Kafranbel in northern Syria on Friday. He was 46.

In 2012, Raed Fares was staging peaceful protests against the Syrian regime. He would later launch a radio station called Radio Fresh. While his funny, fearless broadcasts delighted local residents, they drew the ire of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and militant groups.

Nicolas Henin, a journalist and author who made a documentary with Fares, spoke with As it Happens guest host Peter Armstrong from Lyon, France. Here is some of their conversation.

Nicolas, I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I wonder how you're remembering Raed Fares today?

I first encountered him online and I'd seen his activities on social media — and I was amazed.

I especially remember the picture of a demonstration that he organized right after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. And he organized a demonstration for the people of Kafranbel, a village in northern Syria, to mourn for the bombing as it happened in the United States.

I was amazed by this reaction coming from someone who lives under the bombs and experiences everyday bombings. I decided to contact him online, and we became friends first online, and then I had the chance to travel to Kafranbel.

I shot a documentary movie with him, mostly about him, in the spring of 2013. And I just enjoyed his character and the smart way he understood how a revolution can work.

Mourners attend the funeral of Fares and Hammoud al-Jneid in the village of Kafranbel in the northwestern province of Idlib on Friday. (Muhammad Haj Kadour/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

His perseverance is a big part of this. He survived assassination attempts. His offices were bombed by the Assad forces. They were raided by ISIS. He was kidnapped at several points by al-Qaeda.

He was the enemy of everyone, except the people.

He had no political ambition. He wasn't looking for a comfortable posting or for anything for himself.

He was just very conscious of basic rules. If you want a revolution to succeed — meaning to bring peace, democracy, and freedom for your people in the country that you love — he understood that violence is a limited asset, even if you face extreme violence coming from both the regime and the different jihadi groups, and that communication is the key.

Raed Fares speaks to As it Happens in March 2014, on the 3rd anniversary of the Syrian uprising. 8:50

After so many close calls, today he finally was killed. Do you know yet specifically what happened?

I have little information. But it really appears he was killed not by the Assad regime, but by a jihadi group associated with al-Qaeda —​ very likely people from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which is associated with al-Qaeda.

It is, of course, meaningful that he wasn't even killed by his primary enemy, but rather by people who hijacked the very revolution that he fought for.

He was always laughing, yes. That was his weapon.- Journalist Nicolas Henin on his friend, Raed Fares

Five years ago, we spoke a couple of times about what could happen, and the danger of his task.

Already, he was very aware of the risk that he would get killed in this revolution. And this is a risk that he assumed and accepted from the very beginning.

Radio Fresh, the radio station he was operating — what was the goal? What were they trying to do?

His goal, I think, was to educate people about freedom — because Syrians had lived under the rule of tyranny for decades.

The point was to bring them to believe in a free system, very different from both the dictatorship of the regime, but also from the rules of many armed groups, and mostly the jihadi groups, that became attractive to many Syrians after the wave of violence caused by the civil war.

He wanted people to make live the spirit of the revolution, and the idea that even if in the short term things don't seem well, there is still hope and there must still be faith in the political outcome for the country. But you need to work on it, you need to advocate for this freedom.

Islamic groups forbid him multiple times from playing any music on the station. So he found this very creative way to get around the rule. They were replacing the music with animal sounds.

That was exactly his spirit. This is how he wanted to overcome tyranny and violence from both sides.

Was he able to find humour in these dire, these terrible, troubled situations?

Last time I met him, he was always laughing, yes. That was his weapon.

Written by Kevin Ball and Jeanne Armstrong. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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