Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (also known as HTS) freed Hossam Mahmoud as part of an amnesty on 6 June, after holding him for six months. But HTS continues to hold Amjad al Maleh, who was captured at the same time as Mahmoud, on 10 December 2017, as they were reporting near the northern city of Idlib.
HTS has released other citizen-journalists in recent months. On 24 May, it freed Ahmed al Akhras, who had been arrested on 28 April. And it freed Ali Al Dalati on 28 February after holding him for two months.
Shortly before Mahmoud’s release, RSF contacted the local authorities in the Idlib region where HTS operates. They said they were holding neither of these two citizen-journalists and insisted that they did not arrest journalists and were even ready to protect them. Clearly concerned about their international image, the authorities posted a registration form online on 29 April for use by foreign journalists interested in covering the region.
“We call for the immediate release of Amjad al Maleh after the release of other citizen-journalists in recent months,” RSF said. “The conditions in which these hostages are held and the mistreatment to which some are subjected constitute acts of torture punishable under international law.”
Sources have told RSF that citizen-journalists held by HTS are sometimes subjected to very violent interrogations and beaten with the aim of making them give up being reporters. HTS often accuses those who are not its supporters of doing “media work without permission” or of collaborating with the “ungodly West” if the western media have used their photos.
Despite internal divisions, HTS wants to win the battle for local public opinion and to control the media’s reporting.
Like all civilians, journalists are exposed to be possibility of being kidnapped or murdered by any of the armed groups present in Syria. The Syrian and Turkish forces that recently took control of the Afrin region have arrested and intimidated several reporters and photographers.
Seven journalists and media workers have been killed by the Syrian regular army and its allies since the start of the year. Ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Syria continued to be the world’s most dangerous country for journalists last year.