News media call for end to kidnappings in Syria

Rebecca Hawkes | 12-12-2013

The BBC and 12 other international news organisations have sent an open letter to Syria's rebel leadership, calling for a halt to the kidnapping of journalists by the armed opposition.

Over 30 journalists are currently thought to be held captive in opposition controlled areas of northern and eastern Syria, where militant groups with links to al-Qaeda are prominent. Aleppo, Idlib and al-Raqqa are sited as particular abduction hot spots by the news outlets.

"As long as kidnappings are permitted to continue unabated, journalists will not be willing to undertake assignments inside Syria, and they will no longer be able to serve as witnesses to the events taking place within Syria's borders," the letter says.

It has been sent to leaders of the mainstream Free Syrian Army and to individual armed groups including the Islamic Front, an umbrella organisation of six powerful Syrian brigades.

Signatories to the letter are the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters, BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Media, The Economist, Getty Images, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times and The Telegraph.

News of many of the kidnappings has been sparse at the request of families and employers, to prevent those held captive being caused harm as a result of media exposure.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says 26 victims of kidnap have been safely released this year. The signatories to the letter request the rebel leadership "assist in identifying those groups currently holding journalists" and "bring about their release".

"We understand that, as in any war zone, reporters face great risk of injury and death," the letter adds, "and we accept those risks, but the risk of kidnapping is unacceptable, and the leadership is in a position to reduce and eliminate risk."

The CPJ believes 55 journalists have been killed in Syria since early 2011 when the civil war began.