Release of Japanese journalists gives hope for other reporters held in Syria

Groups lobbying for the release of others say government action is key

Reporter Ishak Moctar (L) and cameraman Samir Kassab
Sky News Arabia says it has lost contact with its crew covering developments in northern Syria.

Reporter Ishak Moctar - a Mauritanian national, cameraman Samir Kassab - a Lebanese citizen - and their Syrian driver went missing on Tuesday morning.

They were on assignment near Aleppo.

The Abu Dhabi-based broadcaster has asked for information that would lead to their safe return.

Courtesy Sky News *** Local Caption ***  na17oc-skynews.jpg
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The release of Jumpei Yasuda has given hope to groups championing the release of at least 40 other journalists who went missing in Syria or are held there.

The war-torn country has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists to operate since the conflict began in 2011. Over the last seven years, 211 journalists have been killed in the conflict and many more held captive.

Ranking third from last in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, all sides in the brutal civil war have taken part in kidnappings, killings and expulsions of writers, photographers and video journalists from the country.

With the release of Mr Yasuda, at least 21 journalists or media contributors are still held hostage in Syria and another 26 imprisoned by President Bashar Al Assad's regime.

Samir Kassab, a Lebanese cameraman for Sky News Arabia disappeared in 2013 along with his colleagues, Ishak Moctar and a Syrian driver while en route from Turkey to Aleppo to cover Eid Al Adha celebrations.

Ayman Mhanna, the Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, said that any release of a prisoner is a reminder to local authorities that they have still failed to secure his release.

"Any news of a release of a hostage is always a source of hope, and as long as we don't have any clear evidence of the fate of Samir Kassab, we will stick to our belief that he is alive," he told The National.


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The Samir Kassir Foundation is a Beirut-based organisation that promotes cultural and media freedom is named after a journalist who was prominent for his writing against Syrian occupation of Lebanon until he was assassinated in 2005.

Mr Mohanna said Lebanon should leverage their strong relations with Syrian authorities, non-state actors operating in the country and their backers to secure the Lebanese journalist's release.

“This can only happen if there is very active Lebanese diplomacy towards these groups and towards the countries that sponsor these groups,” he said speaking about various sub-state actors within Syria. “As long as we don’t have clear evidence of this diplomacy, we will consider the Lebanese authorities aren’t doing enough,” he said.

Mr Yasuda is the latest foreign journalist to be released from Syrian captivity. Most recently, Hossam Mahmoud, a Syrian journalist was freed as part of an amnesty in June after being held by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, the same group that held Mr Yasuda.

John Cantlie, a former Sunday Times reporter, was kidnapped near Syrian’s northern border in 2012 along with James Foley, who was later killed by ISIS who shared a video of the execution. Organisations in London have advocated for his release since he was last seen.

Mr Cantile was last seen in a video two years ago, where he was seen on the streets of Mosul commenting on the destruction of the city.

Previous to that, he was featured in an Isis propaganda video looking pale and skinnier than when he was last seen in 2012. He also featured in the Isis magazine Dabiq. Reporters Without Borders has previously said they believe he is being "exploited and used for propaganda purposes”.

The group said that there were unsubstantiated reports in Iraqi media that claimed Mr Cantlie has been killed in air strikes on Mosul.

Austin Tice, a former American Marine who worked as a journalist in Syria, has also been missing since 2012.

Earlier this year, the FBI increased their reward for information regarding Mr Tice’s whereabouts to $1 million. Officials have said Mr Tice is being held by the Syrian government or its allies.

A picture shows freelance photographer Austin Tice in Cairo in March 2012. The American journalist has been missing in Syria for more than a week, his most recent employers said on August 24, 2012, expressing concern for his safety amind fierce fighting there. AFP PHOTO/Christy Wilcox / AFP PHOTO / Christy Wilcox
A picture shows freelance photographer Austin Tice in Cairo in March 2012. AFP