Beirut, December 11, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed grave concern about the fate of Syrian journalist Amjed al-Maleh. According to news reports, Syrian militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham threatened to execute al-Maleh, a Syrian freelance journalist and media activist from the southwestern Syrian city of Madaya whom the group had been holding captive for nearly a year.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot previously known as Al-Nusra Front, threatened to execute al-Maleh, according to news reports and the independent London-based human rights organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing reliable sources close to al-Maleh, as well as sources from within the militant group. The reports, which were published between December 9 and 11, said the execution is expected to be carried out in the next two weeks and did not mention the exact date on which the threat was made.
Al-Maleh has been held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since he was taken captive outside his home in Idlib on December 13, 2017, and accused of carrying out media activities against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, CPJ has documented.
"We are gravely concerned about the threat to the life of Syrian journalist Amjed al-Maleh," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington, D.C. "We appeal to any group with influence to take immediate steps to save al-Maleh's life and secure his release."
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. Militant groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have set up their own court systems in areas they control, passing judgment on civilians, including journalists.
The execution threat against al-Maleh comes barely two weeks after the assassination of prominent radio host Raed Fares and photographer Hamoud al-Jnaid in the northwestern Syrian city of Kafranbel, in Idlib province.
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.
Prior to being taken captive, al-Maleh reported for a number of local and international media outlets. He also 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.
In statements to the pro-opposition Step News Agency, al-Maleh's family said he was trying to found a center to protect the rights of the internally displaced people and try to get the parties that managed the four cities agreement, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, to compensate those displaced financially for their losses. They added that the reason for his detention was the attempt to open an office without permission, but the allegations against him have been changing during his time in captivity from being in touch with foreign countries to writing reports for foreign agencies.