Reuters concerned for photographer held in Syria

LONDON (Reuters) – Reuters said on Saturday it was concerned for the safety of its photographer Khaled al-Hariri, who has been detained by Syrian authorities for five days.

Hariri, 50, has a condition which needs daily medication. A Syrian national, he was last seen when his wife dropped him off by car near the Reuters bureau in Damascus on Monday morning.

A witness has told Hariri’s family that he was stopped by two men outside the office and taken away. A Syrian official told the family that he would be released by the authorities if there was “no evidence against him.” He gave no details.

“We are deeply concerned about our colleague Khaled al-Hariri, who has been missing in Syria for five days now,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said.

“We continue to ask the Syrian authorities for their urgent assistance to help get Khaled home safely.”

Hariri has worked in Syria for Reuters for more than 20 years. He has frequently photographed President Bashar al-Assad, his wife Asma and senior Syrian officials.

Hariri is one of four Reuters journalists to have been detained in the past week in Syria, where popular protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world have posed the gravest challenge yet to Assad’s 11-year rule. The three others, all foreigners, have been released and expelled.

A fifth Reuters journalist, Jordanian Khaled Yacoub Oweis, was not detained but was expelled on March 25 after five years as the news agency’s correspondent in the Syrian capital.

Two Lebanese television journalists for Reuters were detained in Damascus last Saturday. They were held incommunicado for two days before being deported to Lebanon. On Tuesday, Amman correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi, a Jordanian, was arrested in Damascus, held for three days and then expelled on Friday.

Syrian officials criticized Oweis’s coverage as “false.” They have made no official comment on the other journalists expelled. Reuters has stood by its coverage of events in Syria.

Also on Friday, the Associated Press said two of its journalists were ordered out of the country with less than an hour’s notice.

Thousands of Syrians took to the streets after weekly prayers on Friday, defying security forces who fired tear gas and live ammunition and used batons to try and disperse protesters who have dismissed a limited reform gesture by Assad.

Witnesses said security forces killed at least three protesters in the Damascus suburb of Douma that day. Human rights groups say that dozens have been killed over the past two weeks and dozens more demonstrators have been arrested.

Reuters, part of New York-based Thomson Reuters, the leading information provider, employs some 3,000 journalists worldwide.

Reporting in English, Arabic and more than a dozen other languages, as well as providing video and photographs, it has had bureaux across the Middle East for well over a century.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Reuters concerned for photographer held in Syria