Reuters journalists under attack in Syria, Libya

New York, March 30, 2011Reuters said today it was urgently seeking the safe return of two of its veteran journalists in Syria, one of whom was said to be in state custody while the other was reported missing. In Libya, meanwhile, a Reuters correspondent was expelled today without explanation.

Citing diplomatic sources, Reuters said correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi, a Jordanian national, had been detained in Damascus on Tuesday. The Jordanian Foreign Minister said in a Twitter post that he was monitoring al-Khalidi’s case closely.

Reuters also said Damascus-based photographer Khaled al-Hariri, a Syrian national, has not been heard from since Monday. The news agency said al-Hariri was last seen at the agency’s Damascus bureau on Monday morning.

Both journalists had been covering political unrest in Syria. “Thomson Reuters is deeply concerned about the whereabouts of our colleagues Khaled al-Hariri and Suleiman al-Khalidi,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said. “We call upon the Syrian authorities to help us urgently in ensuring their safe and timely release.”

Syrian authorities have detained several local journalists and press freedom advocates in recent days, although some have since been released. Reuters journalists were among those targeted. On Monday, authorities expelled Reuters producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji after holding them incommunicado for two days. On Friday, Syrian authorities revoked the press credentials of another Reuters senior correspondent, Khaled Oweis, for purportedly “false” coverage.

In Libya, authorities today expelled Michael Georgy, a Reuters correspondent who had been covering the conflict for several weeks, the news agency said. The Libyan government provided no justification for its action. Georgy, who was among a group of foreign journalists allowed to report from Tripoli under severe government restrictions, arrived in neighboring Tunisia today. Georgy had been detained for several hours earlier this month while trying to reach Misrata, Reuters said.”We are concerned for the safety of our two missing colleagues and urge Syrian authorities to do everything to ensure their safety,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We are also disappointed to hear that the Libyan government has expelled Reuters’ Michael Georgy, seemly without cause.”