Al-Arabiya reporter released from captivity in Philippines

New York, December 4, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release today of a reporter working for Al-Arabiya news channel who, along with two crewmembers, was abducted by Islamist militants 18 months ago.

Baker Abdulla Atyani, a Jordanian national, and his two Filipino crewmen, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, were kidnapped in June 2012 by the Abu Sayyaf group whom they had sought to interview in the jungles of Sulu province, news reports said. The two crewmembers were freed in February, but Atyani, who gained prominence for interviewing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan a few months before the September 11, 2001, attacks, remained in captivity.

“We are relieved that Baker Abdulla Atyani is free after such a long time in captivity,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “His ordeal underscores the dangers journalists everywhere face in covering conflicts in order to keep us informed.”

There are conflicting reports on the details surrounding Atyani’s release. Agence France-Presse reported that a police patrol found Atyani on the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo, more than 620 miles south of the capital of Manila. The police patrol did not see any of Atyani’s kidnappers, and there was no firefight, Chief Inspector Chris Gutierrez told AFP.

But Al-Arabiya reported that the kidnappers handed over Atyani to the local governor’s office Wednesday. Al-Arabiya said that Philippine authorities would secure his return to Jordan. Further details surrounding Atyani’s abduction and release will be offered in the coming days, Al-Arabiya said citing its general manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed.

Gutierrez told AFP that Atyani was receiving precautionary medical care at a local government hospital.

CPJ research shows that Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. At least 74 journalists have been killed in the country in direct relation to their work since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records.