Advocacy group CAGE has called on Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to immediately release both American journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem and British aid worker Tauqir Sharif.
CAGE says it is concerned about the welfare of Abdul Kareem and his driver Abu Muhammad who were taken into custody by HTS on Thursday night in the northern Syrian town of Atmeh.
Abdul Kareem has been reporting from rebel-held Syria where he has resided since 2012 and runs the only regular English-language news outlet in the region, On the Ground News.
The reasons for Abdul Kareem’s arrest and the nature of any charges he faces remain unknown.
But in recent weeks, Abdul Kareem had been highlighting the case of Tauqir “Tox” Sharif who was taken into custody by HTS and held for several weeks. Sharif accused HTS officials of torturing him whilst he was in their custody. Shortly after reporting details of this, Abdul Kareem was seized by HTS.
Abdul Kareem has previously said he had feared execution at the hands of the Syrian government on multiple occasions for his coverage of the Syrian opposition, and also alleges that he was erroneously placed on a US “kill list” after being targeted by U.S. missiles on five separate occasions in 2016.
HTS is a coalition of opposition fighters that is considered a terrorist group in countries including the U.S. and the UK because it contains factions who formerly belonged to the al-Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front.
CAGE is now calling on HTS authorities to immediately release both Bilal Abdul Kareem and Tauqir Sharif, along with their drivers Muayad and Abu Muhammad, and grant assurances that none of them will be tortured in the interim.
CAGE outreach director Moazzam Begg said: “I have known Bilal for many years and discussed with him in detail how to tackle issues surrounding lack of prisoners’ rights and due process in liberated areas along with the use of torture. I have heard first-hand details of Tox’s torture. And now, the one voice that spoke up against this behaviour is facing the very thing he opposed.
“This matter needs to be resolved with impartial adjudicators to prevent any further escalation. The process must have the confidence of all parties and all must be accountable before the law.”
And Bilal Abdul Kareem’s wife, Umm Layla, said: “My husband and his driver were taken captive after being beaten. They even hit his step son who was with him. He’s only 13 years old. Bilal defends the rights of prisoners and captives and I have no idea where he is or his condition.”