News

October 21, 2020

Syria: “Efforts to obtain Austin Tice’s release must continue”

After a White House official’s recent visit to Syria to ask its government to free Austin Tice, a US journalist held since 2012, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says every effort must still be made to obtain Tice’s release, although eight years have passed since his abduction.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kash Patel, an assistant to President Trump who is the top White House counterterrorism official, travelled to Damascus earlier this year to meet with Syrian government officials and seek the release of Tice, who the US authorities believe is still alive.

 

This was the first time that such negotiations were attempted since the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Syrian, the newspaper said, citing sources close to President Trump. The president even sent a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad proposing a “direct dialogue” about Tice. However, according to the same sources, Damascus demanded the complete withdrawal of US forces from Syria in return.

 

A freelancer working for AFP, McClatchy News, the Washington Post and CBS, Tice disappeared after being taken prisoner at a checkpoint near Damascus in August 2012. The following month, he was shown in a video that did not identify his abductors.

 

“The efforts to obtain Austin Tice’s release must continue,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “This eight-year ordeal for him and his family has gone on long enough. All of the parties involved must be transparent about his fate and the fate of all the other foreign and Syrian journalists who have gone missing since the start of the war.”

 

Lebanon’s security chief, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who assisted last year in the release of US citizen Sam Goodwin in Syria and US resident Nizar Zakka in Iran, visited Washington last week, when he was mentioned as a mediator between the United States and Syria in Tice’s potential release.

 

Ibrahim nonetheless refused to give any details about the Tice case, saying there was “no confirmation about his status,” including whether or not he is still alive.

 

Syria is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.