Sky News Arabic’s journalists latest to go missing in Syria

New York, October 17, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists today reiterated that journalists in Syria face unprecedented risks, after Sky News Arabic reported that it had lost contact this week with its crew operating near Aleppo. 

Sky News Arabic reported Wednesday that it had not heard from its three-person crew since Tuesday morning. The crew–Mauritanian correspondent Ishak Moctar, Lebanese photographer Samir Kassab, and a Syrian driver who has not been named at the request of the family–was reporting on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, the station said.

The station has appealed for information and for help to ensure the journalists return home safely. Nart Bouran, news director of Sky News Arabic, said the journalists were performing their duties in documenting the humanitarian toll of the Syrian conflict without prejudice to any group.

“We must not understate how dangerous it is to report from Syria right now,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on all parties to work to ensure the safe return of the Sky News Arabic team and all journalists missing and detained in Syria.”

The Sky News Arabic journalists were reported missing as the one-year anniversary approaches of the abduction of American freelancer James Foley. Global Post, a news website for whom Foley had reported in Syria, said Wednesday that the Foley family had renewed its appeal for any information on his whereabouts.

“We don’t know who has detained Jim,” said Foley’s father, John. “But we beg his captors to recognize that our son is an innocent, objective journalist who has done no harm to anyone and to please set him free.”

Global Post said it has conducted an “extensive international investigation over the past year to determine who kidnapped [Foley] and where he is being held.” In May, the outlet and family said they believed he was being held in a Syrian prison. The government, including President Bashar al-Assad, denied on several occasions that it was holding Foley, the Post reported Wednesday. Investigations into rumors that he was being held by one of the many rebel groups fighting in Syria also turned up “no conclusive evidence,” the outlet said.

CPJ has reported on at least 18 journalists and media workers currently missing in Syria, including the Sky News Arabic crew and Foley.

German journalist Armin Wertz returned home safely on October 5 after spending over five months in government captivity, German news reports said. Wertz, an Indonesia-based journalist who writes for German and Asian outlets including the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, had sent a text message to a friend and colleague on May 5 saying he had been arrested by police in Aleppo.

In an article for Frankfurter Rundschau, Wertz detailed his captivity, which he called a “descent into Hell.” According to Wertz, Syrian authorities briefly held him under house arrest in his hotel in Aleppo before transferring him to a police station, where he said he was treated well. He was accused of entering Syria without a valid visa, but was told that he would be released soon.

Days passed before he was transferred to a prison where he spent most of his time in a dark, hot, solitary cell, Wertz said. He was not beaten, but said he saw other inmates who had been tortured. When he raised the topic of international law and human rights conventions to protest prison conditions, he was told, “The United Nations does not exist here.”

In September, he was transferred to the custody of immigration authorities in Damascus, where he was held for 10 days before finally being released without explanation. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in Berlin said, “The case was resolved,” but did not provide any further details on any government involvement in securing Wertz’s release, according to news reports.

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