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News providers in Syria continue to be targeted

UPDATE: Abducted Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva appeared in a short video pleading with her embassy to meet the demands of her Syrian captors. (CPJ, 14 November 2012)

(RSF/IFEX) - 18 October 2012 - Reporters Without Borders deplores the abduction of the Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva on 9 October 2012 and calls for her release.

Kochneva, who contributes to several Russian media outlets and also works as an interpreter, is believed to be held by a faction of the Free Syrian Army somewhere between Tartus and Damascus.

According to Russia Today, she went to Tartus on 8 October with her colleague Elena Gromova. She was due to return to Damascus the next day but changed her mind and headed for Homs to prepare a report for the Russian television station NTV.

Kochneva, who has been in Syria since October last year, confirmed by telephone on 9 October that she had been kidnapped. On 12 and 13 October she was able to contact NTV, for which she works as an interpreter. The Ukrainian foreign ministry reported she was being held in “satisfactory conditions”.

Her abduction is a repeat of the disappearance of three other foreign journalists since August.

Two of them, Cuneyt Unal and Bashar Fahmi Al-Kadumi of the US television station Al-Hurra, vanished in Aleppo on 20 August. Only Unal has given any sign of life, albeit under duress. The Turkish cameraman appeared on 27 August in a video broadcast by the pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya, looking tired and with bruises under his eyes.

US freelance journalist Austin Tice, who contributes to the Washington Post, Al-Jazeera English and McClatchy, disappeared on 13 August in a Damascus suburb. A video showing him in the hands of jihadist gunmen was posted on the Internet on 26 September. It was the only evidence that he was still alive but it gave no indication of where he was being held or the identities of his abductors and what their demands might be. On 5 October, Russia Today broadcast a message from his parents calling for their son's release.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned of the arrest of the cartoonist Akram Raslan by military intelligence on 2 October at the offices of the government-owned newspaper Al-Fida in Hama. Around mid-2011, Raslan, who was born in 1974, began drawing cartoons of President Bashar Al-Assad which were published on social networking sites and the Al-Jazeera website, although he continued to live in Syria.

The filmmaker Ghanem Al-Mir was also arrested by the military security services in Tartus on 9 October. There has been no news of him since.

Activist Ahmed Ali Saada was killed on 1 October as he filmed the shelling by the Syrian Army of the Damascus suburb of Douma where he lived.

The press freedom organization has also learned of the death under torture of the writer and political scientist Mohamed Nemr, 51, which was announced
by his family. Nemr, known for the strongly anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial views expressed in his writing, was first arrested in March last year and then again last month. He worked secretly with foreign media organizations.

Reporters Without Borders has received contradictory accounts of the death of citizen journalist Nawaf Al-Hindi on 6 September in the Damascus suburb of Beit Saham.

According to the Syrian Journalists Association, he was hit by shrapnel from an exploding shell. Other sources said he might have been killed at a Syrian Army checkpoint.

Finally, the citizen journalist Abdul Rahman Maree Al-Mashhour was killed when a demonstration that he was filming in Deir Al-Zor on 18 September came under fire.

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