Syrian journalist detained for third time in 18 months
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of Kenan Wakkaf, a journalist who was arrested in Tartus, a government-controlled city on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, shortly after posting an alarming video on 5 February reporting that the security forces were looking for him and had just raided his home.
“This is a testament for my children,” Wakkaf said in the video, which he hastily posted online to report that members of the security forces had just stormed into his home in his absence with the aim of arresting him, and had “terrorised” his wife and children.
“They couldn’t have been more heavily armed if they had come to arrest a member of Islamic State,” he said, adding that, “I am making this video in case anything happens to me.” He was located and arrested shortly thereafter.
The day before his arrest, Wakkaf criticised the lavish reception that a Syrian actress and her director husband had received at the presidential palace while the rest of the population must cope with constant shortages.
Wakkaf has been jailed twice in the past. The first time was in September 2020 when he was arrested on a cyber-crime charge after writing a story for a newspaper blaming corruption for electricity supply problems in Tartus. It was only after the media minister intervened that he was released a few days later.
The second time was in March 2021 when he was arrested shortly after reporting that a soldier assigned to guarding the governor’s palace had been kidnapped for ransom by none other than the governor’s son. He was released in May 2021 under a presidential pardon that benefitted other journalists as well.
“We call for journalist Kenan Wakkaf’s release and for an end to his judicial harassment,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “In a country where the economic situation is a source of great concern for its citizens, being able to freely report and freely obtain information about these issues is in the public interest. The authorities have released this journalist twice already because they know he poses no threat to state security, and there is no justification for continuing to detain him now.”
This latest arrest follows months of harassment of Wakkaf, who worked for the pro-government newspaper Al-Wehda until he was fired. RSF has learned that the intelligence services were keeping him under surveillance and threatened media outlets that offered him work. After being turned away everywhere, he was forced to work in a bakery in order to feed his family.
Syria is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.