Reporters Without Borders is very worried about three foreign journalists – Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal and Jordanian reporter Bashar Fahmi Al-Kadumi, who work for Al-Hurra TV and who went missing on 20 August, and US freelancer Austin Tice, who has been missing for almost three weeks.
The pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya broadcast footage on 27 August showing Ünal giving a statement that was clearly made under duress. Looking tired and with bruises under both eyes, he said that, before being captured by government forces in Aleppo, he had been escorted during his reporting by persons of foreign origin including Saudis, Chechens, Libyans and Qataris "who were all carrying a weapon."
Al-Ikhbariya also showed him holding a rocket-grenade launcher. Reporters Without Borders condemns the use of forced confessions that are filmed and then broadcast on television – following a practice often used by the authorities in Iran.
The video did not mention Ünal’s East Jerusalem-born colleague, Kadumi, whose brother, Majed Al-Kadumi, told Agence France-Presse yesterday that the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem had confirmed to the family that he was also being held by the regular army.
When contacted by AFP, the Red Cross refused to confirm or deny this information on the grounds that its work is confidential. According to the rebel Free Syrian Army, Kadumi sustained a shoulder injury at the time of his capture.
As for Tice, who strings for the Washington Post, Al-Jazeera English and McClatchy and who went missing on 13 August, the Czech ambassador told Czech television that he was alive and was being held by government forces in a Damascus suburb. The Czech Republic represents US interests in Syria.
If all this information is correct, Reporters Without Borders urges the Syrian authorities to release these three foreign journalists as well as all the Syrian journalists it is holding. At the moment, there are at least 31 Syrian journalists and citizen-journalists in government jails.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that Mohamed Omar Oussou, a well-known writer and actor, and several members of his family were arrested during a search of his home on 24 August.
The documentary filmmaker Orwa Nyrabia, who runs Syria’s Dox-Box Festival and who was a jury member at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival in 2011, was arrested at Damascus airport on 23 August as he was about to fly to Cairo. The airline confirmed that he did not board the flight.
A fourth hearing was held on 29 August in the case of members and supporters of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) who were arrested in a raid on the centre in February. It seems the authorities now want to transfer the case to a civilian court. The judge is to issue a decision on 6 September.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about SCM president Mazen Darwish and four other SCM activists who are still being held at an unknown location on unknown charges.