Syrian journalists, blogger missing

New York, October 31, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the continued disappearance of Syrian journalists and bloggers.

Journalist Lina Saleh Ibrahim, 31, has been missing for six days. She was last seen leaving her home in the Damascus suburb of Harasta on Tuesday, a friend, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, told CPJ and local news outlets reported. Ibrahim is a business reporter for the state-owned daily Tishreen.

Wael Yousef Abaza also disappeared on October 25 in Damascus, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression reported. Abaza is a freelance journalist who writes for several newspapers and Arabic news websites.

CPJ was unable to obtain information on either journalist’s whereabouts or condition. Both journalists’ families reported their respective disappearances to Syrian authorities but they have not responded, local journalists told CPJ.

Hussein Ghrer, a prominent blogger, disappeared after leaving his home one day earlier, on October 24, according to local and regional press freedom groups and bloggers. The circumstances of his arrest, his condition, and his whereabouts are unknown, according to the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.

A few days before his disappearance, Ghrer wrote on his blog, “Silence doesn’t serve us after today. We don’t want a country where we get imprisoned for uttering a word. We want a country that embraces and welcomes words.” The blog features news about detained bloggers in Syria, the ongoing revolution, and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories, among other topics.

CPJ believes Ibrahim, Abaza, and Ghrer to be in state custody, although it has not been able to independently confirm their detention. An undetermined number of journalists have been detained by authorities since mass unrest erupted across Syria in March; many remain in custody.

“We are concerned for the safety of Lina Ibrahim, Wael Abaza, and Hussein Ghrer and other journalists who we believe to be in the custody of Syrian authorities,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The government must immediately clarify whether it is holding these journalists, and if so, why.”

Security forces detained Omar al-Assad, Rudy Othman, and Hanadi Zahlout, all freelance journalists, on August 4 as they attended a Damascus protest. They have not been heard from since. CPJ could not determine whether the three journalists were covering or participating in the protests, due to a media blackout and the unwillingness of most citizens and journalists to discuss matters of a sensitive political nature. Amer Matar was also arrested on September 3 in Damascus, CPJ reported.

All four journalists remain in detention without charge. Several other journalists have either disappeared or have been detained by security forces without further news of their alleged crimes, whereabouts, or condition. CPJ continues to investigate several of these cases.