(NEW YORK) MintPress – “It is good to be here,” said NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel while appearing on the “TODAY” show from Turkey. He and members of his crew were freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner. Their kidnapping highlights […]
(NEW YORK) MintPress – “It is good to be here,” said NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel while appearing on the “TODAY” show from Turkey.
He and members of his crew were freed from captors in Syria after a firefight at a checkpoint on Monday, five days after they were taken prisoner.
Their kidnapping highlights the hazards of reporting from Syria, which is said by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to be “the world’s most dangerous place for the press.”
“I’m very happy that we’re able to do this live shot this morning,” Engel added.
So are his network and those of us who have had the privilege of working with him in the field.
Engel, 39, is one of the country’s leading foreign correspondents, well known for his coverage of wars, revolutions and political transitions around the world — especially in the Middle East — over the last 15 years.
He said that they were traveling with Syrian rebels when a group of about 15 gunmen “jumped out of the trees and bushes” and captured them. He recalled that their captors “were talking openly about their loyalty to the government” of President Bashar Assad.
Engel explained that their captors’ plan was to use them to gain the freedom of people held by the rebels.
“They captured us in order to carry out this exchange.”
Engel’s capture comes at the close of a particularly dangerous year for journalists; 67 have been killed so far “in direct relation to their work,” according to a new report issued by CPJ on Tuesday.
With two weeks left in the year, the 2012 death toll is already the third-highest CPJ has recorded.
Along with the 74 journalist deaths recorded in 2009, CPJ documented 70 deaths in 2007, many of them in Iraq.
Syria, with 28 journalists killed in combat or targeted for murder by government or opposition forces, “was by far the deadliest country in 2012,” the report says. All four of the international journalists killed this year — including Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin — died inside Syria.
Shortly after Colvin’s death in February, CPJ executive director Joel Simon said, “There is an interaction — between social media and online citizen journalists, and those voices being amplified by traditional media. You get these two synergies, and that’s when governments really feel vulnerable.”
Paul Wood, a BBC Middle East correspondent who covered Iraq and numerous other wars, said the Syrian conflict “is the most difficult one we’ve done.”
Wood and many other international journalists traveled into Syria clandestinely. “We’ve hidden in vegetable trucks, been chased by Syrian police — things happen when you try to report covertly,” he explained.
Citizen journalists also picked up cameras and notepads to document the conflict — and at least 13 of them paid with their lives. One, Anas al-Tarsha, was only 17 years old. At least five worked for the Damascus-based Shaam News Network, whose videos have been used extensively by international news organizations.
“We’ve seen pro-regime journalists targeted by rebels — it is well known. But opposition journalists say the regime is intent on targeting them as journalists,” said Wood.
Mosaab al-Obdaallah, a reporter for the state-owned daily Tishreen, was shot dead in his home by Syrian security forces; colleagues and friends said he was targeted after the government found out he was sending news and photos about the conflict to pro-opposition websites.
Worldwide, 94 percent of victims in 2012 were local journalists covering events in their own countries, according to the CPJ. War, politics and human rights were the three most common beats among the victims.
Deaths attributed to combat represented a higher proportion of the toll than in past years, it found.
In Somalia, 2012 has been the deadliest year on record, due in part to a complicated political transition and in part to al-Shabaab militants, who were largely ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011, according to Mohamed Odowa, deputy director of the independent station Radio Kulmiye.
Several of the station’s journalists were seriously injured in attacks in 2012. “Al-Shabaab was losing ground and it was forced from large areas, so the group wanted to send a message to the outside world that they were still in the capital,” Odowa told CPJ.
Not a single journalist murder has been prosecuted in the country over the past decade.
Pakistan, the deadliest place for journalists in 2010 and 2011, dropped two notches this year, but the number of fatalities remained at seven.
Four of those killings took place in Baluchistan, which has seen ongoing violence between separatists, anti-separatists, various tribes and ethnic groups, Pakistani security forces and groups aligned with the Taliban.
“There is a revolt across the entire province of Baluchistan against the government,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, founder and editor of the Baloch Hal and a native of Baluchistan who now lives in the U.S.
“As one journalist gets killed in Khuzdar, and the government takes no action, it promotes a culture of impunity and emboldens the targeting of journalists elsewhere.”
Other countries where CPJ documented work-related fatalities were Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Bahrain, the Philippines, Nigeria, India, Ecuador, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Cambodia.
At least there was one happy ending. Richard Engel has once again posted on his Facebook page.