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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

UPDATE: Syrian pro-government television airs interview with detained Turkish journalist

IPI reiterates demand for release of Cüneyt Ünal 

By: Barbara Trionfi, Press Freedom Manager

Damaged buildings are seen after an exchange of fire between Free Syrian Army fighters with regime forces in the Seif El Dawla neighbourhood of Syria's south west city of Aleppo August 23, 2012. Picture taken August 23, 2012. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

VIENNA, Aug 29, 2012 – A pro-government television channel in Syria has broadcast an interview with Turkish journalist Cüneyt Ünal, who said that he was captured by Syrian loyalist forces on Aug. 20 in Aleppo, Reuters reported.

Ünal appeared exhausted and nervous with apparent bruises under both eyes in the interview, which aired Sunday on the Al Ikhbariya news channel. He also reportedly said he travelled from the Turkish border to Aleppo with an armed group of foreign fighters that linked up with rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Reuters reported that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, at a news conference in Ankara on Monday, said Ünal “was forced to make a statement that was dictated to him”. Davutoglu added: “Is there a possibility Cüneyt Ünal, who went to the region to conduct journalism, has turned into a militant? We do not take the claims seriously in any form.”

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “We are very concerned for the wellbeing of Mr. Ünal, given his appearance in the interview. We remind the Syrian government that it is responsible for his safety and we reiterate our demand for his immediate release.”

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IPI calls for immediate release of Turkish cameraman held in Syria

‘Dozens’ of journalists currently held or missing in Syria, Syrian journalist group warns

VIENNA, Aug 24, 2012 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today reiterated its call for the immediate release of Turkish journalist Cüneyt Ünal, who was reportedly captured by Syrian loyalist forces on Aug. 20.

Ünal, a cameraman with the US-funded Arabic-language satellite station Al Hurra, was reportedly travelling near Aleppo alongside Japanese reporter, Mika Yamamoto, who was killed on Aug. 20, and Al Hurra correspondent Bashar Fahmi, who is also missing. Al Hurra said they lost contact with Ünal and Fahmi on Monday.

“We are deeply disturbed by the continued failure by all parties in the conflict to respect the basic principle of the Geneva Declaration and other international human rights treaties that journalists are civilians and are not legitimate targets in the conflict,” said IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills. “It is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists, both foreign and local, to report from Syria, where scores of media workers have been killed, captured, kidnapped and wounded, often targeted because of the information they distributed, the opinions they expressed or the values they were perceived to represent.”

According to the information available to IPI, at least 37 journalists and citizen reporters have been killed in Syria this year. The head of the Media Freedoms Committee of the Syrian Journalists Association (SJA) told IPI that it estimated that “dozens” of journalists and citizen reporters were currnetly missing or in detention in Syria.

Among them is Austin Tice, a freelance reporter with the US-based news agency McClatchy, who has been missing since mid-August.

The whereabouts of Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), as well as four of his colleagues, Messrs. Hussein Ghrer, Abdelrahman Hamada, Mansour Al Omari and Hani Zetani, also remain unknown. They were arrested during a Feb. 16 raid at the SCM premises in Damascus and have since been held incommunicado by the Air Force Intelligence (AFI), without any charges. Observers have expressed fear that the journalists have been subject to torture and ill-treatement in detention.

“We call on the Syrian authorities to ensure the immediate release of all journalists and citizen reporters for whose captivity they are responsible, and to do everything in their power to locate the journalists that are missing,” Mills added.