Number of journalist kidnappings in Syria unprecedented

New York, November 26, 2013–The Swedish government confirmed two Swedish journalists were kidnapped in Syria on Saturday by an unknown group. The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed its alarm at the unprecedented number of abductions.

The Associated Press reported that the Swedish Foreign Ministry said on Monday the two journalists were kidnapped on Saturday as they were trying to leave the country. Ministry spokesperson Catarina Axelsson said Swedish diplomats in Beirut were working on the case.

“The number of journalists currently missing in Syria is nothing short of shocking,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on all players in the conflict to respect journalists’ status as civilians and ensure their safety.”

The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter and other news reports said the missing journalists are Magnus Falkehed,  the newspaper’s stringer in Paris, and Niclas Hammarstrom, a freelance photographer. Dagens Nyheter said the journalists were not on assignment for the paper.

News reports did not say where in Syria the journalists were taken or by whom.

The men’s reported abduction comes amid a string of kidnappings across Syria. Approximately 30 local and international journalists are currently missing in Syria, with several cases not being publicized at the request of family members and news outlets.

Other cases that have come to light more recently include Rami al-Razzouk, a journalist for the local news outlet Radio ANA, who was abducted by gunmen from the al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) on October 1, the station reported. ISIS gunmen raided Radio ANA’s office again on October 15, confiscating the station’s radio and communications equipment, the station said.

Earlier, on August 13, Mohamed Nour Matar, a citizen journalist who has made videos for the local media non-profit Al-Shara, went missing while covering a protest in the city of al-Raqqa in opposition to ISIS, according to news reports.

Following a suicide bombing at the demonstration, Matar’s brother, Amer, found Matar’s charred camera in the rubble. Matar was believed dead until friends and family received news that he was being held by ISIS, according to Al-Shara’s Facebook page. Matar’s condition and whereabouts remain unknown, his brother told CPJ.

Some missing journalists have been freed in the past month. Polish freelance photojournalist Marcin Suder returned home safely at the end of October after managing to escape from his captors, news reports said. Suder was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen during a raid on an opposition media office in the rebel-controlled city of Saraqeb in Idlib province in July.

Ziad Homsi, a Syrian photographer who has contributed to multiple opposition outlets, posted on Twitter Monday that he had been released after more than a month of captivity.  Homsi was kidnapped by ISIS while returning to the Damascus suburbs from Turkey in October, according to the regional press freedom group SKeyes. Rosol Arts, a Syrian photography collective that has posted Homsi’s work, said it had lost contact with him on October 12. Syria remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. At least 55 journalists have been killed covering the conflict since 2011, with local journalists comprising 90 percent of the fatalities.

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