September 1, 2014 - Updated on June 7, 2016

US urged to move quickly to save Steven Sotloff

Reporters Without Borders urges the United States to do everything possible to obtain the release of Steven Sotloff, a US freelance journalist held hostage for more than a year in Syria and now facing the same fate as James Foley, the US journalist beheaded by the militant jihadi group that now calls itself Islamic State.

In the video of Foley’s barbaric execution that is posted online, Islamic State threatened to kill Sotloff in a similar fashion. Pursuing its deadly logic, it then launched a terror campaign on Twitter with the hashtag of #StevensHeadinObamasHands.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the US government to move quickly to try to save Sotloff. International law, the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, the 2006 UN Security Council resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists and a 2013 UN General Assembly resolution hold states responsible for the safety of journalists and require them to take active measures to protect them or free them.

When journalists are taken hostage, their governments have a duty to take action. In Sotloff’s case, it is the United States. Saving hostages should not be left to their families or the news media that employ them, which often have to turn to the private sector in an attempt to obtain their release. In an act of desperation, Sotloff’s mother posted a video online on 27 August in which she appealed to Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to release her son.

Journalists deserve special attention because of the risks they take to report the news,” said Reporters Without Borders assistant research director Virginie Dangles. “In Sotloff’s case, the United States must consider all possible options for freeing him.”

The United States has recently shown that it is able to find ways to get hostages freed. With the help of Qatari mediation, it obtained the release of Peter Theo Curtis, a US journalist and writer who was held by the jihadi group Al-Nosra for 22 months in Syria. The US soldier Bowe Bergdahl was exchanged for five Guantanamo detainees after being held by the Taliban for five years.

The recent releases support the idea that negotiations can be envisaged with those holding hostages, that the options do not only include payments of some kind as well as military operations. Regardless of its policy of not paying ransoms, it is vital that the US government should take concrete action.