Concern mounts over U.S. journalist in Syria; Austin Tice’s whereabouts unknown


Journalist Austin Tice, who contributed articles to The Washington Post, is currently unaccounted for while reporting in Syria. (Courtesy of the Tice family )
August 23, 2012

The family of Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist who has contributed coverage from Syria for The Washington Post and other news organizations, said Thursday that it has not heard from him for more than a week and is concerned for his welfare.

Tice, 31, a Georgetown University law student who previously served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, reported from Syria this summer. His work, which has been published by The Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other outlets, has offered vivid and insightful accounts of the civil war.

After entering Syria across the Turkish border in May, Tice spent time with rebel fighters in the north. He traveled to Damascus in late July, becoming one of the few Western journalists reporting from the capital. Tice intended to leave Syria in mid-August. Family members and editors who have worked with Tice have not heard from him since then.

“We understand Austin’s passion to report on the struggle in Syria and are proud of the work he is doing there,” Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, who live in Houston, said in a statement.

Tice contributed more than a dozen articles to McClatchy, which owns 30 U.S. newspapers. The Post published three of his articles. He also contributed reports for CBS News, al-Jazeera English, the Agence France-Presse news agency and the McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service.

The Post said it was worried about Tice’s welfare and credited him for “important, on-the-ground reporting” in Syria. “We’re focused intensively on trying to ascertain his whereabouts and ensure his safe return,” executive editor Marcus Brauchli said in a statement. “Austin is a talented and courageous journalist whose work has helped to shape the world’s understanding of this humanitarian and political crisis.”

Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy vice president for news, said in a statement that the company is “deeply concerned” about the journalist’s safety and has sought assistance from the State Department to find him. “Journalists like Austin take risks every day to deliver the news to the rest of the world,” Gyllenhaal said. “Austin’s reporting on the events in Syria has been particularly powerful and revealing — a reminder of why this work is so vital.”

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus suspended operations in February, and U.S. interests in Syria are now represented by the Czech Embassy. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that officials “are working through our Czech protecting power in Syria to get more information on [Tice’s] welfare and whereabouts, and we greatly appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf our citizens.”

Tice was among the journalists who entered Syria this year to report on the fighting between rebel squads and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Reporting from Syria has been challenging. Since protests against the government broke out more than 17 months ago, the government has issued few visas to journalists. Regime officials have closely monitored reporters who have been allowed in.

And covering Syria has become increasingly dangerous in recent months as the fighting has intensified. Ten professional journalists have been killed in Syria since the revolt began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 10 Syrian citizen journalists have also been killed, according to the organization’s tally.

The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said the organization is still seeking information on two journalists for the Arabic-language satellite network al-Hurra TV, reporter Bashar Fahmi and his Turkish cameraman, Cuneyt Unal. The pair went missing Monday. “It is thought they are being held by the security forces or a pro-government group,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. The group says at least 30 Syrian journalists and citizen journalists are being detained.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Thursday that the advocacy group is concerned for Tice’s safety. “His work is protected by international law, which guarantees the right to seek and receive information,” Simon said in a statement. “As a journalist, he is a civilian and must be protected from harm.”

Tice wrote in a July 25 post on his Facebook page that traveling to Syria was “the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” though he acknowledged the perils of reporting on the conflict. Tice was no stranger to war zones, having led Marines during combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and rising to the rank of captain. He joined the military in 2005 and left active duty in January, military records show.

“I don’t have a death wish — I have a life wish,” he wrote. “So I’m living in a place, at a time and with a people where life means more than anywhere I’ve ever been — because every single day people here lay down their own for the sake of others.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report. Anyone with information about Tice’s whereabouts should contact Mark Seibel, McClatchy chief of correspondents, at mseibel@mcclatchydc.com.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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