New York, August 27, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the immediate release of Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal, who appeared exhausted and bruised in a video aired today in which he said he had been taken captive while reporting in Syria.
Ünal, a cameraman for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Al-Hurra, was reported missing in the northwestern city of Aleppo on August 20 along with an Al-Hurra colleague, reporter Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin. Ünal makes no mention of Fahmi in the video clip.
The journalist does not explicitly name his captors in the video. Ünal recounts traveling with an armed group that clashed with “Syrian soldiers and gendarmerie.” He goes on to say, “After that, they took me from the armed group and brought me here.” He does not state where he is being held. The date of the video is also unclear.
At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Syrian government was responsible for Ünal’s safety, according to news reports. “He was forced to make a statement that was dictated to him,” news reports cited Davutoglu as saying.
Ünal, whose face showed evident bruising, said in the video that he entered Syria illegally with armed men from Libya, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The video shows a picture of the journalist holding a rocket launcher.
“We hold Syrian authorities responsible for the safety and well-being of Cüneyt Ünal and Bashar Fahmi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on authorities to immediately secure the release of Ünal and Fahmi and ensure that members of the media are not used as pawns during a conflict.”
CPJ has documented a resurgence in dangers facing the press in Syria in the past several weeks. U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice has not been heard from since mid-August. The Syrian government has blocked international news media access to the conflict. As a result, journalists have been secretly crossing the border and embedding with rebel groups in order to cover the story. At least 19 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, making Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research.
- For more data and analysis on Syria, visit CPJ’s Syria page here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to include that Bashar Fahmi is a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin.