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Two Turkish journalists believed detained in Syria

Demonstrators in Istanbul protest the disappearance of two Turkish journalists in Syria. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

New York, March 15, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists holds Syrian authorities responsible for the safety and well-being of Turkish journalists Adem Özköse and Hamit Coşkun, who are believed to be in government custody, and calls for their immediate release. The journalists were last heard from five days ago, according to news reports.

Özköse, a reporter for Turkish magazine Gercek Hayat and a columnist for the daily Milat, and Coşkun, a freelance cameraman, were captured by pro-regime militiamen in the village of Al-Fua, in the northern province of Idlib, and handed over to Syrian intelligence authorities today, the Turkish semi-official Anatolia News Agency reported, citing local sources. The journalists had crossed into Syria from southern Turkey over a week ago, according to news reports.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said today that the two journalists were alive and in the hands of pro-government Syrian forces, according to news reports. Selçuk Ünal, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Syrian authorities had not released any official information in response to Turkish officials' questions on the journalists' whereabouts, according to news reports.

The journalists' disappearance comes after a warning issued by authorities on Saturday that said all foreign journalists who sneaked into the country would be subject to legal action, according to news reports. The government has made a sustained effort to shut down international news coverage of the uprising and its increasingly violent crackdown, which began one year ago. The government also stated that entering the country illegally and "traveling with terrorists" would be considered "tantamount to terrorism," news reports said.

"We are very concerned about the well-being of Adem Özköse and Hamit Coşkun, whose condition and location have not been disclosed by the Syrian government," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Authorities must ensure their safety and release them immediately."

Özköse and Coşkun last spoke to their families and employers on Saturday, telling them they had arrived in Idlib, which was recaptured by government forces on Tuesday, news reports said.

CPJ research shows that at least 20 international journalists have publicly identified themselves as having sneaked into Syria in the last two months to report on the unrest despite the dangerous situation for journalists.

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