US President Joe Biden said that his government is positive that American journalist Austin Tice is being held by the Syrian government, and has demanded his release. Sunday will mark 10 years since the abduction of Tice while he was covering the conflict in Syria, becoming one of the longest-held American captives in history.
“We know with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian regime. … We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” President Biden said a statement released on Wednesday.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, which began as a consequence of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, at least 300 journalists – and up to 700 journalists – have lost their lives in airstrikes and artillery bombardments, or have been executed by different groups involved in the conflict, while another 100 have disappeared, according to a report by the nongovernmental organization Reporters Without Borders, which clarified that the large range is due to different reporting entities and the inability to confirm the information because of the situation.
Journalists in Syria: Dangerous reporting on the front lines
While hundreds of journalists who left home to report from the front lines in Syria paid the highest price of them all, others returned to keep practicing their profession in the name of justice.
Paul Conroy is a photojournalist from the United Kingdom who covered the beginning of the civil war in Syria and, while doing so, lost his colleague and one of his closest friends, Marie Colvin, an American-born journalist who worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the British newspaper, The Sunday Times.
Conroy told The Media Line that he and Colvin were covering the Arab Spring in other countries including Tunisia and Libya, when they understood that it had exploded in Syria and knew it was an important story.
When the Arab Spring hit Syria, “we just knew that we had to get there,” he said. "(Libya’s President Moammar) Gadhafi didn't have many friends in the world and it was in North Africa, but Syria, is in the heart of the Middle East.”
After going through a complicated path to enter Syria, Conroy and Colvin continually came across journalists whose eyes had been removed because they were using cameras, journalists who had been killed, civilians who had been shelled, and civilians who had been shot. "It just builds and builds – the levels of violence that we saw as we went through," he said.
On the night of the February 21, 2012, about two weeks after their arrival in Syria, "Marie did interviews on CNN and the BBC, and the UK Channel 4, and the last interview was at about midnight," he said.
The next morning, Conroy and Colvin were getting ready to go back to the field hospital in order to get some more photos, and then were going to leave the country.
But as they were preparing to leave the makeshift media center in Homs, two rockets hit about 50 meters away on either side of the building and shook it. Then two more rockets hit just outside the building. One rocket hit the back of the building, another hit the roof, and one landed just in front of the building’s front door.
"Marie and Remy were trying to get out of the building, and I was just five meters behind them," Conroy said. "Then there was just an almighty explosion and I just saw Marine and Remy go down and the building kind of fell down around us," he added.
“It was full of smoke, and I checked myself for injury and I had a hole about the size of my fist in my left leg and I put my hand in and it came straight out the other side of my leg. I was losing lots of blood, so I made a tourniquet out of a scarf, and then I crawled over to check Marie and Remy, who were both clearly dead,” he recalled.
During the trial later held in the United States, Conroy noted, the court determined that the rockets were launched by the military division commanded by Maher Assad, the brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Hiba Barakat, a photojournalist from Aleppo in Syria, was 15 years old when the war started. She told The Media Line that she has been reporting in Syria for over five years and she plans to keep doing so.
“I lost a lot in this war,” Barakat said, "but I did not regret that I was, and I am still, documenting the results of the Syrian regime’s criminality in this country by killing people, displacing them and arresting young men and women."
It is necessary to follow up on the coverage of the war in order to bring about the trial of President Assad and his supporters for their crimes in Syria, Barakat asserted.
Conroy says that in an age where there are so many media outlets, and everything is online, "I still think that there is a strong case for good journalism, for people who know how to find out facts, follow stories and speak up for human rights."
Barakat believes journalists need to document the facts of the Syrian conflict and their effects, which are still present today, including: the displacement of Syrian people, the large number of children who lost access to education, the destruction of so many schools, and hospitals and infrastructure. And there are many more repercussions.
"The world must know the truth of what is happening, contrary to what the Assad regime is trying to mislead," she said.
“I think it's important that we … don't let these people just slip out of Syria and start a new life,” added Conroy.
Accountability, he said, "is the biggest gift that we can offer people. If we can hold these people to account, I think that's as much as we can do to not let all of the suffering be forgotten and not let the regime be rehabilitated back onto the international stage."
He said it is important to continue to point out these crimes against the people of Syria, as well as Ukraine and wherever else it is happening. "Accountability should be a primary focus for everyone," Conroy said.