Hayat Tahrir al-Sham members are seen in northern Idlib on August 14, 2018. Militants from the group recently detained journalist Maan Bakour. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group detains Syrian journalist Maan Bakour in Idlib

June 26, 2019 1:15 PM ET

Beirut, June 26, 2019 -- The militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham should immediately release Syrian journalist Maan Bakour, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In the morning of June 14, several members of the militant group detained Bakour, a reporter for the Hama Media Office, an online news outlet that opposes the government of Bashar al-Assad, in front of his house in the southern Idlib town of Arihah and seized his motorcycle and phone, according to a statement issued by his employer and Abu Shadi, an employee of the Hama Media Office, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot previously known as Al-Nusra Front, is in control of the town of Arihah and large swaths of Idlib governorate, according to news reports.

The Hama Media Office contacted Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in an attempt to determine Bakour's whereabouts and the reason for his detention, Abu Shadi told CPJ. The militant group told them that the journalist was "under investigation" and refused to disclose his location or the reason for his detention, Abu Shadi said.

"It is shameful for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to simply snatch a journalist from his home and detain him without justification for two weeks and counting," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. "We call on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to immediately release Maan Bakour and let all journalists work freely and without fear of retaliation."

According to Abu Shadi, Bakour joined the Hama Media Office editorial department about 18 months ago, and has covered the Syrian government's military campaign in Idlib.

Abdel Rahman Issa, a Hama Media Office employee, told the anti-Assad news agency Step News in an interview that Bakour had not done or written anything that could be deemed as a provocation to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. He also said that this is the first time that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has arrested a member of the Hama Media Office.

According to CPJ research, since May 2018, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has detained at least two journalists in Idlib governate.

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