American freelance journalist Austin Tice had been reporting on the civil war in Syria for several months when he was detained at a checkpoint in Damascus on August 14, 2012. A native of Houston, Texas, Austin was about to enter his third year of law school at Georgetown University when he decided to travel to Syria to cover the impact of the unfolding civil crisis on the Syrian people. While there, his work was published in outlets including The Washington Post, Agence France Press, and McClatchy, for which he won a George Polk Award in 2013. Though Austin has not been heard from since his detention, US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert O’Brien announced during a November 2018 press conference that the government has “every reason to believe” that Austin is alive.
Since his detention, Austin’s parents Marc and Debra Tice have worked tirelessly alongside the US government, and with support from organizations including RSF, to ensure Austin’s safe return. Most recently, on August 11—Austin’s 38th birthday—Debra and Marc Tice announced in an op-ed that ran in more than thirty American newspapers the launch of the latest campaign on behalf of their son: “Ask About Austin,” which encourages Americans to urge their members of Congress and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to continue to use every diplomatic resource available to ensure Austin’s release. The campaign was launched by the National Press Club in partnership with RSF and McClatchy, and supported by a coalition of press freedom groups working on behalf of Austin.
“Seven years detained is seven years too many. It is time for the US government to redouble its efforts to bring Austin home safely to his parents, who have been vigilant in campaigning for their son’s release,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “Austin is the only American journalist currently detained abroad and both the State Department and Congress should do everything in their power to bring him home. This isn’t an issue that only concerns the press freedom community – this is an urgent priority for all Americans, who deserve to know that their government will prioritize their security and safety while abroad. We encourage everyone to join the #AskAboutAustinTice campaign and urge Congress to help facilitate Austin’s freedom.”
RSF has been a dedicated advocate of Austin for many years, leading public advocacy campaigns to ensure his case is heard throughout the United States and beyond. On May 2, RSF partnered with The National Press Club and other press freedom organizations to launch “Night Out for Austin Tice,” an initiative to raise awareness and funds to supplement the $1 million FBI reward for information leading to Austin’s safe return. As part of the initiative, a coalition of 80 restaurants across the country donated a percentage of the revenue raised on the night of May 2 to add to the reward. As of today, the initiative has raised more than $40,000.
In 2016, RSF partnered with The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, McClatchy and other media outlets to launch the #FreeAustinTice campaign. Print and digital ads promoting the campaign were run in these outlets to raise awareness of Austin’s case across the country. The Newseum installed a large banner on the facade of the building facing Pennsylvania Avenue urging Austin’s safe return, which still remains to this day.
Syria ranks 174th out of 180 countries on RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.