ANA New-Media Association began campaigning for the release of Syrian media activist Rami Al Razzouk, 25, who was kidnapped on October 1 while on enroute to a district in Syria's liberated Raqqah, a city in north central Syria located about 160 kilometres east of Aleppo, after negotiations with the Syrian State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reached a deadlock.
“Negotiations began on the 2nd of October but no agreement was reached,” wrote ANA’s Co-Director Rami Al Jarrah in an email. “[T]he family have given us consent to begin a widespread campaign for Rami.”
Al Razzouk's work mainly revolved around managing Radio ANA's Raqqah radio office as well as curating news for broadcast. That office was later raided by “masked men” on October 15, where “all equipment, including radio broadcasting tools were confiscated and the office was closed down with a direct threat to the building owner,” noted Al Jarrah.
In a Facebook update, Radio ANA revealed that the perpetrators belonged to ISIS:
When asked about their identity, the masked men revealed to be elements of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) and that they were carrying out a task ordered by the ISIS leadership.
The update was concluded with a plea, asking everyone to speak up against ISIS crimes and help in releasing captured citizen journalists:
The association stresses about the importance to take action immediately and work seriously inside and outside Syria to put an end to these practices and to hold those who commit such crimes responsible by implementing justice, whoever they are.
To whom this concerns, please join us in demanding the release of all Citizen journalists like Rami who have become the victims of extremism's crackdown on free media.
This was not the first time, however, that insurgents stood in the way of free speech. ANA had previously received several threats when broadcasting anti-sectarian threats, explained Al Jarrah.
Following Al Razzouk's abduction, Radio AlKul reported that Basel Aslan of Al Raqqa Revolutionary Media Office was attacked by Al Hai'h Al Sharia (Authority of Sharia) while covering Eid Al Adha festivities.
This escalation in Raqqah is paramount considering it was the first Syrian city to be liberated by rebels. Nevertheless, ISIS has been known to also rampage other cities. This perhaps would explain why the Chief of the Free Syrian Army General Salim Idriss condemned ISIS crimes in Aleppo:
The events taking place in Aleppo today and specifically the actions of ISIS are intolerable abuses against the Syrian revolution #Syria
— Gen. Salim Idriss (@Gen_Idriss) October 13, 2013
Do Syrians Support ISIS?
Evidently, many Syrians are outraged by the ISIS actions as they do not reflect the revolution's original goals, which mainly demanded freedom of rights. Syrian blogger Maysaloon tweets his views, while another user argues that their actions improve the image of Bashar Al-Assad's regime in the West:
@Maysaloon I remain convinced they know their actions often work to improve regime appeal to International community.
— Scully (@Mathidiot) October 11, 2013
Sima Diab, known for her phenomenal work with Syrian refugees, calls them terrorists:
Is it fair to call ISIS & JAN 'rebels', it does the real rebels injustice. It may be best to call them what they are…terrorists. #Syria
— Sima Diab (@SimaDiab) October 11, 2013
While ISIS's ideology presumably follows Islam's laws, Mohannad disagrees:
A few examples of how Islam is the religion of peace to the world not just Muslims. (Exactly what ISIS is not doing)
— MohaNNad أبو مازن (@TheMoeDee) October 4, 2013
However, Racan indicates that their fate awaits them, as the Syrian people who rose against Bashar Al-Assad's regime refuse to be silenced:
When Assad began killing protestors we took up arms against him. Now that ISIS is killing protestors the next step is obvious… #Syria
— Racan (@Racanarchy) October 7, 2013
The Bigger Picture
The crackdown by extremist insurgents on journalists, both local and foreign, does not come as a shock to many, as such groups have been notorious for harassing and kidnapping people for ransom. Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter N. Bouckaert told Syria Deeply in a June interview that kidnapping in specific began when “fighting broke out in Aleppo, and [has] developed and grown since then into a broader trend across many parts of Syria.”
Nevertheless, many foreign journalists have been abducted by insurgents since the beginning of the unrest. In an article raising concern about several missing journalists, Reporters Without Borders said that:
The number of foreign journalists who have been kidnapped in Syria since March 2011 is now 37, of whom 17 are still hostages, detained or missing. Syrian news providers are nonetheless the ones who have suffered most. More than 60 have been kidnapped or arrested by various armed opposition groups and more than 200 have been arrested by the regime.
Earlier in October, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault revealed that two of its reporters, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres, remain in captivity since June 22 in Aleppo, doubling the number of abducted French journalists in Syria to four.
Just three days ago, Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia appealed for information about the whereabouts of its three-member crew who went missing in Aleppo on October 15. Samir Kassab, Ishak Moctar, and a third member whose name is withheld for safety reasons, went missing while covering the conflict through a humanitarian perspective.
However, some live to tell their story. Such is the case of NBC correspondent Richard Engel, who was abducted for five days, along with his crew, in December 2012. He explained what happened to him in an MSNBC interview:
While the reports of kidnappings pile up in Syria, many believe that the government is at fault for leaving Syria in complete disarray. Syrian-Spanish Activist and Professor Leila Nachawati Rego tweeted:
Of all the things to thank Assad for, invoking extremists from all over the world to kidnap a legitimate uprising is top of the list. #Syria
— Leila Nachawati Rego (@leila_na) September 18, 2013
Kidnapping victims are not only journalists in Syria, but also men of faith, civilians, and humanitarian workers, many of whom returned to their families in shrouds, or whose fate remains undetermined.