RSF calls for release of journalist held in Rojava
Update: Update 3/10/2023: Kurdish authorities released Barzan Liyani on September 30, after a 45-day detention in Jerkin prison, in the Qamishli district. He was accused of working for an unlicensed media outlet. According to the journalist, after several interrogations, his file was forwarded to the public prosecutor who dropped all charges.
On International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 30 August, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), sounds the alarm about a journalist held without access to a lawyer in an unknown location in northeastern Syria since 15 August, and calls for his immediate release.
Barzan Hussein Liyani, a former ARK TV correspondent, was in his office in Al-Muabbada (Girkê Legê in Kurdish), a town in Rojava, the region in northeastern Syria that is under Kurdish control, on 15 August when six masked gunmen arrived, handcuffed him and took him away in their vehicle.
Witnesses say the men identified themselves as members of the security forces affiliated to the autonomous government running Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Liyani’s family still have no idea where he is being held, but suspect he was arrested in connection with his journalistic activities, which he ceased just three months ago. When questioned by RSF, neither the administrative nor military authorities provided any information about what had happened to him.
“The spectacularly staged, heavy-handed arrest of Barzan Liyani is an act of intimidation aimed at journalists, while his enforced detention reflects a total contempt for the law on the part of the Kurdish administration, combined with an intolerance of pluralism and criticism. We urge the Kurdish administration to release Barzan Liyani at once and to stop flouting the rights of critical journalists.
Liyani’s brother, Marwan Liyani, was in a nearby shop when the arrest took place. Alerted by his son, he rushed to Barzan’s office with the aim of trying to negotiate with the security officers.
“It was terrifying,” he told RSF. “I saw my brother's head covered with a black cloth and his arms tied behind his back. One of the men pushed me away. We fought. They tore my clothes and kicked me in the chest before starting their car and driving away with my brother inside.”
When Liyani’s 18-year-old son tried to defend his father, he was also violently pushed away by the masked gunmen.
Marwan said Liyani stopped working as ARK TV’s correspondent three months ago following a decline in the volume of work and had been running a tourism agency in the town since then.He nonetheless remained in the Kurdish government’s sights because of his former journalistic activities and his links with ARK TV, a TV channel close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the ruling party in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, which is opposed to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the party running Syrian Kurdistan. Like other Syrian and Iraqi journalists, he seems to have paid a price for the rivalry between the two Kurdistans.
When RSF questioned the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the official armed forces in Syrian Kurdistan, they referred RSF to the civilian administration, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The AANES did not respond to RSF’s questions.
In 2017, when he was a correspondent of Zagros TV (another pro-KDP media outlet), Liyani was arrested at a military checkpoint and was held for six months. The SDF arrested him again at his home in July 2021 and held him for three months. Another ARK TV correspondent, Ahmad Soufi, had meanwhile also been arrested by the SDF in March of 2021.
Since 2022. RSF had been sounding the alarm about the increasingly hostile environment for journalists in Syrian Kurdistan, where more and more restrictions are being imposed on their work.
At least ten other journalists have been the victims of enforced disappearance in Syria as a whole since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011, and two of them are still detained. In all, 34 journalists are registered as missing in Syria, 64 are registered as detained, and 120 are registered as held hostage. These are among the highest figures in the world.