12 December 2012

IFJ and EFJ Warn of Media Safety Crisis in Syria after Rebels' Threats to Execute Reporter

Fears are mounting for the life of Anhar Kochneva, a female journalist and a dual national of Russia and Ukraine, who was kidnapped in October by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Her captors are now threatening to execute her tomorrow unless their demand for a ransom is met.

The International Federation and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today called on those who hold the reporter to respect her right to life.

"This news is very alarming indeed and we are gravely concerned for the safety of Anhar  Kochneva," said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. "Those who are holding her will be held responsible for summary execution if she is killed."

According to the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), an IFJ and EFJ affiliate, Anhar Kochneva was kidnapped near the Syrian city of Khoms at the beginning of October. The union says that the journalist, who was reporting for a number of prominent Russian media from Syria, appeared on 7 November in a video published on the Internet, in which she appealed to the Embassies of Ukraine and Russia as well as the Syrian government to meet the demands of her kidnappers. RUJ quoted family and friends as saying that she is held by two commanders of the Free Syrian Army, Aby Jamal and Farid Abu Hussein.

In a second video released on 28 November, the journalist read a text in Arabic, admitting to having "participated in the battles, translated for and supported Syrian and Russian officers, worked as a military interpreter," added RUJ, noting that both appeals seemed to be made under pressure. Her captors are believed to have demanded a ransom of 50 million US Dollars, threatening to execute the journalist on 13 December if the payment is not made, RUJ says.

The European Federation of Journalists has accused the FSA of putting the journalist's life in danger for financial gains.

"This blatant use of journalists as a money spinning scheme is outrageous,' added Arne König, EFJ President. "She and her family should not be subjected to such a cruel blackmail. She should be released immediately and unharmed to be reunited with her relatives and colleagues."  

The case of Anhar Kochneva is a reminder of risks to media in the current Syrian conflict in which both sides have been accused of serious violations, including arbitrary arrests and detention, kidnappings as well as killings of journalists and media workers.

At least three other journalists and media staff are either missing or held by warring factions in Syria. They include U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice, who writes for The Washington Post and McClatchy newspapers and went missing in August 2012, Palestinian Bashar Fahmi al-Kadumi of the Arabic-language television channel Al-Hurra who disappeared during the same month in the city of Aleppo and Mustafa al-Khateeb, a Syrian interpreter who was arrested by the FSA in the city of Bab al Salameh in October.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents more than 600.000 members in 134 countries

Syria, Middle East, Arab World and Middle East, Press Release

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