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New York, July 31, 2000 — Citing security concerns, foreign news agencies pulled out their teams yesterday from the southern Philippine island of Jolo, where 16 journalists have been kidnapped over the past two months by various factions of the militant Islamic rebel group Abu Sayyaf.
All the journalists were abducted while covering a three-month-old hostage crisis that began on April 23, when Abu Sayyaf guerrillas kidnapped 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort.
The pullout occurred despite the July 29 release of two Filipino journalists and the release of a German reporter on July 27. Still in captivity are three French journalists, who were abducted on July 9. (The other ten journalists were held for several hours on June 2, and then released after they paid a US$25,000 ransom.)
Wire services have reported more armed checkpoints and other military presence around Jolo town in the past week. On July 26, a Manila-based reporter told CPJ that foreign correspondents were considering petitioning the government for armed protection but would leave the island if security conditions did not improve.
On July 28, Philippine government officials said they could not guarantee the safety of journalists on Jolo and recommended that they leave, according to local and international news reports.
All but about a dozen Filipino journalists working for foreign news agencies and local publications had left the island by last Friday, according to Agence France-Presse. On Sunday, ten photographers, reporters and television crew members left Jolo on a midday ferry, and will continue to cover the crisis from 95 miles away in Zamboanga City, said an Associated Press report. It is not clear whether any local stringers are still working on Jolo.
CPJ has documented the following kidnappings of journalists on Jolo since June 1:
- On June 2, ten foreign journalists were held for 10 hours until they pooled together their own funds to pay a US$25,000 ransom.
- On July 2, Der Spiegel reporter Andreas Lorenz was kidnapped by a splinter faction of the Abu Sayyaf. Lorenz, who had been among the group held on June 2, was released on July 27.
- On July 9, three France 2 journalists—reporter Maryse Burgot and cameramen Jean-Jacques Le Garrec and Roland Madura—were abducted. They are currently being held with the remaining 14 hostages from the Malaysian resort, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. France 2 sources told CPJ that they have received a letter from the captured journalists, who claimed to be holding up well. According to France 2 and international news reports, the Philippine government is currently negotiating their release.
- On July 24, two Filipino journalists, ABS-CBN cameraman Val Cuenca and researcher/writer Maan Macapagal, were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. They were released on Saturday, July 29, reportedly after the intervention of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulon Sajiron, whose nephew’s faction had kidnapped them. Both the Philippine government and ABS-CBN denied that a ransom was paid for the journalists’ release. However, Cuenca and Macapagal told AFP that their captors wanted a ransom to buy arms in order to defend themselves against a government offensive, which they expect after all the hostages have been released.