New York, June 6, 2019 — Kurdish security forces in the northern Syrian city of al-Hasakah should immediately release journalist Mohammad Tawfiq al-Saghir, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 4, Kurdish security forces known as Asayish detained al-Saghir, a correspondent for the Syrian state broadcaster Syria al-Ikhbaria, while he was travelling between the northeastern Kurdish-controlled cities of Qamishli and al-Hasakah, according to reports by his employer and other news outlets.
Asayish forces have not disclosed his location or any charges against him, according to those reports.
“If the Kurdish authorities in northern Syria truly seek to lay the foundations for a democracy, detaining a journalist without any public explanation is a very poor start,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on the Kurdish security forces to immediately release Syria al-Ikhbaria reporter Mohammad Tawfiq al-Saghir and let him work freely and without fear of retaliation.”
Al-Saghir was covering fires in wheat and barley fields when Asayish forces stopped him at the Hattin checkpoint, according to those news reports. A June 5 report by the local news website Snack Syrian cited unnamed sources saying that the journalist is being held in a jail in the northeastern city of Amuda, close to Turkish border.
The Asayish forces did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Al-Saghir’s employer and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency stated that his arrest was due to his coverage of fires in wheat fields in Qamishli, which have become a point of political tension between the local Kurdish administration and the Syrian government.
The Syrian government blames the fires on arson by the Kurdish authorities, while the Kurdish authorities state that the Syrian government bears responsibility, according to news reports. The World Food Program blames the fires on escalating violence between both sides of the conflict and particularly hot and dry weather, according to a statement by the UN organization.
In November 2013, Saghir was briefly held by Asayish forces, along with cameraman Jamil al-Tus, after broadcasting a report about the Syrian Army taking over the city of Ras al-Ain, according to news reports.
At least two journalists were arrested by Kurdish security forces in northern Syria in 2017, as CPJ reported at the time.