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Credit: Getty Images / Anadolu Agency

Death in Aleppo

The war in Syria is a proxy war with many actors, and the death of Iranian journalist Mohsen Khazaei highlights this in the most tragic of ways: the TV journalist was killed on 12 November 2016 in western Aleppo. A piece of shrapnel fatally struck his head as he and his colleague, the cameraman Tamer Sandooq, followed Syrian government troops as they recaptured western Aleppo. Sandooq was injured in the fray. Khazaei, who was born in 1972, started out as a sound technician at Iran’s state broadcasting company (IRIB) in 1995.

He leaves behind two sons and a daughter.

Together with his team, Khazaei was embedded with the troops of ruler Bashar al-Assad and reported on their efforts against rebel troops who had control over western Aleppo at that time. According to the independent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition’s Baladi News Network, the government troops were pushing back the rebels in the Minyan District when Khazaei was killed. Also involved in the fighting on the side of Assad were troops from Lebanon and Iraq who were supported by Iran. Assad’s troops regained control of Aleppo at the end of 2016.

The government long denied the fact that Iran is involved in Syria’s civil war, but experts estimate that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has several thousand men in Syria providing military support to Bashar al-Assad. In the meantime it has become impossible to gloss over the high number of Iranians who have died in Syria. According to the cult of martyrdom fostered by the Islamic Republic, Iranian soldiers who have fallen in Syria are given a hero’s burial in Iran, and some of them even have the dubious honour of being displayed on posters. The fact that Khazaei was also honoured as a martyr after his death and his image was displayed on the walls of buildings reveals his closeness with the Iranian apparatus of power.

From a western European perspective, the IRIB could be seen as a propaganda medium.

The broadcasting company operates multiple radio and TV stations, including some channels abroad. but it is subject to state censorship and must answer to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. Although all media authorised in Iran are subject to censorship, the reporting is sometimes astonishingly critical. In the TV debates before the presidential elections, for example, the candidates criticised one another quite ruthlessly.

The internet is also officially under strict control. Nevertheless, knowledge of the technical tricks needed to circumvent the barriers is so widespread that the candidates ultimately battled it out online too, putting their election campaign films on the internet, so their supporters were able to disseminate them via social media. At the same time, Twitter et al have been condemned by those in power since 2009 at the latest, when the disputed reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked dramatic protests.

Nevertheless, independent political reporting is not possible at IRIB, and the circumstances and handling of Khazaei’s death highlight this.  


written by Milan Jaeger; Weser-Kurier

  • Credit: Screenshot, IRIB News Agency video

    Mohsen Khazaei

    The Iranian journalist Mohsen Khazaei worked for the state broadcasting company of Iran (short IRIB) which sees itself as “the voice of the Islamic republic of Iran”. During a reporting in the South-West of the Syrian city Aleppo, he died through a shrapnel. Khazaei had been working for the IRIB since 1995, where he started as a sound engineer. He leaves behind three children.