Jordanians call for release of Reuters journalist

AMMAN (Reuters) – Prominent Jordanian journalists and rights activists staged a silent protest on Thursday over the detention in Syria of Reuters correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi, who was arrested while covering Syrian protests.

Diplomatic sources said that Khalidi, a Jordanian national based in Amman, was detained by Syrian authorities in Damascus on Tuesday. He was able to make two brief telephone calls to his wife on Thursday, saying he hoped to return soon.

“Suleiman is a veteran journalist and a consummate professional of high integrity. His arrest cannot be but to restrict international media coverage of Syria,” said political columnist Mohammad Abu Rumman.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Hassan al-Shobaki said: “The media is not a combatant in what is going on in Syria.”

Around 40 journalists raised placards that said “Freedom for Suleiman al-Khalidi. No to arrest of journalists,” and stood silently at the steps of Jordan’s Journalists Syndicate.

British-educated Khalidi, who has worked for Reuters for more than 20 years in Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Iraq, was last seen in the old city of Damascus on Tuesday.

Khalidi, 54, is married with three-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. His arrest has created outrage on Jordan’s blogosphere and social networks, with top Jordanian officials tweeting to express concern about his wellbeing.

“The Syrian authorities are under international obligations to reveal why he was arrested, or release him,” said Maysara Malas, head of the freedoms committee at Jordan’s General Syndicate of Unions.

Khalidi was arrested a day after Reuters photographer Khaled al-Hariri, a Syrian based in Damascus, went missing. He has not been in contact with colleagues since Monday.

A Syrian official said authorities were working to establish what had happened to the two men.

Hariri, who has also worked for Reuters for more than 20 years, was last seen arriving at the Reuters bureau in Damascus on Monday morning. He has not been in touch since then and has not answered his mobile telephone.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler has called on Syrian authorities to ensure both men are released safely and soon.

Their disappearance followed the detention in Syria of two Reuters television journalists, producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji. They were held incommunicado for two days before being released by Syrian authorities on Monday.

Both Lebanese, they were expelled to Lebanon. They had been working in Syria since the previous week.

Reuters correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis, a Jordanian who had been based in Damascus since 2006, was expelled from Syria on Friday for what a Syrian Information Ministry official described as his “unprofessional and false” coverage of events.

Reuters said it stood by its coverage from Syria, where nearly two weeks of protests have posed the biggest challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s 11-year rule.

On Wednesday, the Libyan government expelled a Reuters correspondent from Tripoli. Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia expelled the Reuters foreign correspondent from Riyadh.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald and David Stamp)

Jordanians call for release of Reuters journalist