Reporters Without Borders said that it is relieved to learn that two Turkish journalists who were captured while making a documentary in northwestern Syria two months ago were released today. Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Iranian government acted as mediator in their release.
Adem Özköse, a reporter for the magazine Gerçek Hayat and the daily Milat, and cameraman Hamit Coşkun were abducted by a pro-government militia near the northwestern city of Idleb on 10 March and were handed over to a government intelligence agency.
IHH, a Turkish Islamist humanitarian NGO, announced on 5 May that it had managed to visit the two detained journalists in Damascus. Turgut Alp Boyraz, the head of foreign news at Milat, said they were able to telephone their families on 5 May for the first time since their capture.
Announcing their release, the Turkish foreign minister said: “We expect that they will arrive in Tehran shortly. At our prime minister’s request, we have sent a plane to Iran to bring back journalists.” They are expected to arrive in Turkey this evening or tomorrow, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.
Reporters Without Borders said: “Their release is a big relief but more than 37 journalists and citizen journalists are still detained in Syria. We must not forget them.”
Sham trial before military court begins for detained SCM members
Seven members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) who were arrested during a raid on the centre on 16 February, and a visitor to the centre who was arrested at the same time, appeared before a military judge in Damascus on 9 May, two days after the regime’s sham election.
“Who is going to believe in this fake democracy if Bashar Al-Assad’s government continues to detain and try professional journalists and citizen journalists?” Reporters Without Borders said. “Who do they expect to fool? We continue to be very worried about Syrian journalists and activists who are arrested, jailed and tortured for trying to tell the outside world what is happening in Syria.”
The eight detainees from the SCM raid who were brought before a military court on 9 May were Yara Badr, Razan Ghazzawi, Mayada Khalil, Sana Zetani, Joan Farsso, Bassam Al-Ahmed, Ayham Ghazzoul, and Hanadi Zahlout. They are facing up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 to 5,000 pounds (6 to 60 euros) on a charge of “possessing prohibited documents with a view to distributing them.”
The next hearing is scheduled for 29 May. The judge in charge of the case requested SCM founder and president Mazen Darwish’s appearance as a witness.
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Darwish and four other SCM members – Hussein Gharir, Hani Zetani, Mansour Al-Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada – who were also arrested during the 16 February raid and who, unlike the others, have been held incommunicado ever since. There has been no direct news of Darwish since his arrest.