17 January 2017

South Africa: CPJ Calls for Release of Kidnapped South African Journalist Shiraaz Mohamed

New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for the immediate release of Shiraaz Mohamed, a South African freelance journalist who was kidnapped in Syria last week while documenting the humanitarian relief effort in northern Syria.

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Mohamed and two aid workers in Idlib province on January 10, when they were traveling to the Turkish border, according to the South Africa-based humanitarian group Gift of the Givers Foundation and news reports. The gunmen freed the two aid workers but said they were keeping Mohamed for questioning over an unspecified "misunderstanding," the reports said.

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, told CPJ no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping or issued any demands.

"We call for the immediate release of Shiraaz Mohamed, who entered Syria to help document the plight of Syrian civilians," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. "His abduction is a reminder that journalists face an unprecedented threat of kidnapping throughout Syria, including in rebel-held Idlib province where Mohamed was taken."

Imtiaz Sooliman told CPJ that Gift of the Givers had facilitated Mohamed's entry into Syria in early January as part of an informal agreement to take pictures on the group's behalf. Sooliman said that Mohamed was not restricted to taking pictures only for the foundation and he believed that Mohamed planned to publish photos elsewhere upon his return.

The day before Mohamed's planned departure, the photographer texted his family to say there was a risk he may be detained when leaving the province, according to a family statement published in the press. He did not provide further details in the message.

While in Syria, Mohamed published several pictures of Syrian children on his personal Facebook profile. He has previously contributed to outlets including The Associated Press and the European Pressphoto Agency. Both the AP and the EPA told CPJ that Mohamed was not on assignment for them in Syria. Most major news outlets have stopped accepting freelance submissions from Syria because of the risk of kidnapping and death.

Gift of the Givers issued a statement today saying that a member of its medical team, Ahmad Ghandour, was summoned by Fatah al-Sham Front, the Al-Qaeda linked group formerly known as the Nusra Front, about Mohamed's kidnapping. The group is one of the most powerful in Idlib province where Mohamed was taken. The statement said members of the group questioned Ghandour about the "misunderstanding" that allegedly led to Mohamed's kidnapping and pledged to help assist in the search for the photographer.

More than 100 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria since 2011, according to CPJ research.

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