German freelance journalist reportedly in Syrian custody

New York, May 13, 2013–Syrian authorities must immediately release and ensure the well-being of a German freelance journalist who has reportedly been detained for more than a week, according to the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel.

Der Tagesspiegel reported today that Armin Wertz, an Indonesia-based journalist who writes for German and Asian outlets including Der Tagesspiegel, had sent a text message to a friend and colleague on May 5 that said he had been arrested by police in Aleppo. Wertz reportedly asked in the message for his case to be kept confidential. The report said that Wertz then sent a second text on Sunday in which he asked his colleagues to go public with his arrest. He also said he was probably going to be transferred to the coastal city of Latakia, which is an Assad stronghold.

Der Tagesspiegel said that Wertz had entered Syria from Turkey in early May without permission from the government to report on the conflict. It is not clear how Wertz is able to access his telephone if he is in government custody.

The Associated Press reported today that the German foreign ministry had said it was aware of reports of a German national being held in Aleppo and was seeking a resolution.

“The Syrian government must immediately release all foreign journalists held in their custody,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “All sides in this conflict must remember that journalists are civilians and must not be targeted for their work.”

Dozens of journalists have been abducted by various sides of the conflict, including government forces or pro-government militias; rebel or rebel-affiliated groups; and non-Syrian Islamic extremist groups, according to CPJ research. In early May, the family of missing freelance journalist James Foley announced they strongly believed he was being held by Syrian authorities. In March, the Syrian government released freelance German journalist Billy Six, who had been held for nearly three months.

The Syrian government is also believed to be holding another freelance journalist, Austin Tice, since mid-August. Al-Hurra journalist Bashar Fahmi has been missing since last August after he was injured in a blast in Aleppo. Last month, Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and the Belgian academic and freelance writer Pierre Piccinin went missing near the contested city of Homs.

  • For more data and analysis on Syria, visit CPJ’s Syria page here.