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Syria detains, reportedly tortures videographer

Ali Mahmoud Othman ran the Baba Amr media center, seen here, where Colvin and Ochlik were killed in February. (AFP)

New York, April 2, 2012--A prominent Syrian videographer who ran the media center in Baba Amr where two foreign journalists were killed in February has been detained since Wednesday, according to news reports

Ali Mahmoud Othman was initially held at a military intelligence unit in Aleppo and is believed to have been tortured, Paul Conroy, a photographer for The Sunday Times, said in an interview with the U.K.'s Channel 4. Activists were cited in news reports giving the same information. Conroy and other reports said Othman was transferred to Damascus over the weekend.

Conroy, who was injured in the attack that killed Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, said Othman was instrumental in getting journalists in and out of the besieged neighborhood Baba Amr. He said Othman, who was originally a vegetable vendor, was one the first Syrians to video document the unrest in Homs. Citizen journalists such as Othman have filled the information void as the Syrian regime has rounded up professional reporters and excluded foreign journalists to prevent coverage of unrest, CPJ research shows.

"We call on authorities to immediately release Othman and all journalists detained for their work," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. "Syrian citizen journalists have been documenting the unrest at extraordinary risk to their lives. The regime must end its campaign to intimidate them and silence reporting of its brutal crackdown."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for Othman's release and expressed concern over reports that he had been tortured in detention. Hague said some of Othman's colleagues may have also been detained. The French Foreign Ministry has also called for Othman's release.

Syrian authorities continue their campaign against the local and international press. CPJ has documented the continued detention of nine local journalists and activists after a raid in February on the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, a group instrumental in reporting the killing and detaining of journalists since Syria's uprising began last year. The detainees have been denied basic procedures and rights groups say they have been tortured.

Two Turkish journalists, Adem Özköse and Hamit Coşkun, went missing in mid-March and are believed to be in government custody. Their condition and whereabouts are unknown, according to news reports.

In its December 1, 2011 annual prison census, CPJ identified at least eight other journalists imprisoned for their work in Syria, many of whom remain in detention. At least eight journalists have been killed on duty in the country since November, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world right now, CPJ research shows.

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