Beirut, September 12, 2019 — The militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham should immediately release Syrian reporter Ahmed Rahal and stop detaining journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday at noon, in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, four members of the group abducted Rahal, a reporter for the Syrian pro-civil rights opposition news website Al-Dorar al-Shamia, after raiding his home, and took him to an undisclosed location, according to news reports, a report by Rahal’s employer, and a statement by the Syrian Journalists’ Association, a local press freedom group. The militants also seized electronic devices in the raid, according to those reports.
The group has not disclosed any reason for Rahal’s detention, according to those reports. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot previously known as Al-Nusra Front, controls large swaths of territory throughout Idlib governorate, according to news reports.
“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is turning the snatching of journalists from their homes into a shameful habit,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to immediately release Ahmed Rahal and let all journalists work freely and without fear of retaliation.”
An unnamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham member cited by Al-Dorar al-Shamia disputed the characterization of the events as a raid, saying that Rahal was “arrested” by the group as part of an investigation into “a security case,” but declined to elaborate.
An unnamed source close to Rahal cited in the Syrian Journalists’ Association statement said that the journalist’s abduction was likely tied to Rahal’s criticisms of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and disagreements with its members.
The day before the raid, Rahal posted an image on his public Telegram channel featuring a Hayat Tahrir al-Sham commander who has alleged corruption, nepotism, and embezzlement within the militant group and called for reform, according to news reports.
Since June, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has detained two other journalists in Aleppo and Idlib, according to CPJ reporting.