The Syrian militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham took captive two media activists, Hossam Mahmoud and Amjed al-Maleh, in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib in December 2017, according to news reports, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Syrian Journalists’ Association.
Mahmoud, a freelance journalist and activist, was taken captive alongside Hassan Younis, a member of the local search and rescue group the Syria Civil Defense, in Idlib’s al-Qusour neighborhood on December 10, 2017, according to news reports and local press freedom groups. The militants accused Mahmoud of filming in areas that it has declared authority in, according to the reports. The militants later detained Yoinis’s brother, Bakr, according to news reports.
Separately, militants took al-Maleh captive outside his home in Idlib on December 13, 2017, and accused him of carrying out media activities against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, according to news reports. All four come from Madaya, a city 40 kilometers northwest of Damascus.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of opposition militias that includes the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, took control of the city of Idlib and some of the province’s towns and villages in July 2017, following clashes with the Turkish-backed militia Ahrar al-Sham.
Mahmoud and al-Maleh covered the siege of Madaya by Syrian government troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which began in July 2015 and came to an end with the so-called four cities agreement in April 2017.
Al-Maleh was the main source of information for a number of media outlets, including Al-Jazeera, CNN, Middle East Eye, Fox, Radio Al-Kul. He was also a reporter for the pro-opposition Qasioun News Agency and Al-Fajr magazine and posted many of his articles and pictures on the Facebook pages that he managed, including those of the news website Huna Madaya and the Local Revolutionary Council of Madaya, which is a governing body set up in areas held by opposition forces. He occasionally posted articles and pictures of casualties of shellings in Madaya and the destruction of the city on his personal Facebook page. After leaving Madaya on April 14, 2017, al-Maleh worked as a photographer for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Mahmoud worked for the Madaya Local Media Council for six months and as a media officer and director of the local non-governmental organization United Relief Commission. Several pro-opposition local and international media outlets, including Enab Baladi, Janoubia, Geroun News Agency, the New Arab, and al-Khaleej Online used him as a source too, according to a journalist from the region, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
Neveen al-Dalati, a Syrian journalist and one of the organizers of a campaign calling for the immediate release of the media activists and two brothers, told CPJ on January 10, 2018, that all four of them were held at Idlib’s Central Prison before being transferred to the Security Prison.
Al-Dalati told CPJ that the militants issued a circular in October 2017 calling for an end to the harassment or detention of correspondents in Idlib. She added that in her conversations with the militants, she was told that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has no evidence that the media activists had done anything wrong.