Syrian journalist detained for third time in 18 months

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for the release of Kenan Wakkaf, a journalist arrested in Tartous, a government-controlled town on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, shortly after he published an alarming video on February 5 reporting that security forces were looking for him. and had just raided his home.

“It’s a testimony for my children,” Wakkaf said in the videowhich he hastily posted online to report that members of the security forces had just stormed into his home in his absence with the aim of arresting him, and had “terrorized” his wife and children.

“They couldn’t have been more heavily armed if they had come to arrest an Islamic State member,” he said, adding that “I’m making this video in case something happens to me.” He was located and arrested shortly thereafter.

The day before his arrest, Wakkaf criticized the lavish welcome a Syrian actress and her director husband had received at the presidential palace while the rest of the population faces constant shortages.

Wakkaf has been imprisoned twice in the past. The first time was in September 2020, when he was stopped on a cybercrime charge after writing a narrative for a newspaper accusing corruption of electricity supply problems in Tartous. It was only after the media minister intervened that he was released a few days later.

The second time was in March 2021 when he was arrested A little after reports that a soldier assigned to guard the governor’s palace had been kidnapped for ransom by none other than the governor’s son. He was released in May 2021 under a presidential pardon which also benefited other journalists.

“We are calling for the release of journalist Kenan Wakkaf and an end to his judicial harassment,” said Sabrina Bennoui, head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “In a country where the economic situation is of great concern to its citizens, being able to freely report and freely obtain information on these matters is in the public interest. The authorities have already released this journalist twice because they know he poses no threat to state security and there is no justification for continuing to detain him now.

This latest arrest follows months of harassment against Wakkaf, who worked for the pro-government newspaper Al-Wehda until he was fired. RSF learned that the intelligence services were watching him and threatened the media who offered him work. After being turned away everywhere, he was forced to work in a bakery in order to feed his family.

Syria is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 ranking World Press Freedom Index.