Baker Abdulla Atyani (AP/Nickee Butlangan)
Baker Abdulla Atyani (AP/Nickee Butlangan)

Al-Arabiya news team missing in the Philippines

CPJ is monitoring with concern the news coverage of Baker Abdulla Atyani, a Pakistan-based Jordanian Al-Arabiya TV journalist, and his two Philippine crew members, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, who have been unaccounted for since June 12.

Atyani, Letrero, and Vela left their hotel in Jolo, in the southern Philippines, to interview a commander for the militant Abu Sayyaf, a banned Islamic separatist group in the region, according to local and international news reports. The three refused offers of a security detail from local authorities, the reports said.

They have not returned. Various news accounts report them as “missing,” “kidnapped,” and a link between Abu Sayyaf and Al-Qaeda.

It is cause for concern that the Al-Arabiya network told Philippine journalists that they had not heard from the team in a week. But in the absence of a ransom demand or an announcement claiming responsibility for their disappearance, their exact status remains speculation. And it is dangerous to assume that journalists interviewing militant groups are supporting them.

The risk of abduction by Abu Sayyaf is a very real one for journalists, according to CPJ research. In July 2000, CPJ documented at least 16 journalists kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf over a two-month period, which led to news agencies pulling their teams out of the region.