With No Explanation for Arrest, Turkey Frees Journalist Documenting Syria’s Horrors

Turkish authorities have released Rami Jarrah, a Syrian journalist based in Gaziantep, but have not yet provided a reason for his arrest.

rami jarrah


This post has been updated. 

Last month, Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss concerns that Turkish border officials were harassing journalists crossing between Turkey and Syria.

According to Adnan Hadad, a Syrian activist who works closely with Jarrah and attended the meeting with Erdogan, the Turkish leader was sympathetic to their reports and promised to look into their complaints.

But this week, Jarrah found himself back in the crosshairs of Turkish police when he was arrested in Gaziantep, the border city where he lives with his family and runs ANA Press, an open source news platform that operates between the two countries. On Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Turkey to release Jarrah, who the advocacy group said in a statement “is known for his independent reporting on the war in Syria, which he has been covering for years at great risk.” 

In a phone call with Foreign Policy from Gaziantep Friday, Hadad said that Turkish authorities refuse to explain why Jarrah was detained. On Saturday, Jarrah posted on Facebook that he had been released without charges and without any explanation for his arrest. 

“I understand the pressure the Turkish government is under and the responsibility it has in ensuring security and preventing terrorism from infiltrating or harming Turkey, however miscalculation or little research before action can mean that many become a victim of such a system,” he said in the post.

According to Hadad, who was with Jarrah in Aleppo last month, it is normal procedure for Syrian journalists living in Gaziantep to cross illegally into Syria, and Turkish authorities often look the other way. Hadad and Jarrah both made that crossing when they worked together in Aleppo over the past two months.

“We understand that it has to do with his illegal crossing but to us, the reaction is not proportionate to such a violation or a crime because it has never happened in the past,” Hadad told FP. “This is the first time a full interrogation is taking place. In the past we have been subjected to police detention and then we were released.”

Jarrah, who has earned a reputation for publishing harrowing video footage documenting the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria, was reportedly moved mid-week from a detention center in Gaziantep to another in the southern city of Adana. Hadad said that Jarrah called another colleague from the Adana prison to say he is worried about his safety because he is being held in the same cell as who he believes to be Islamic State sympathizers. Jarrah reiterated that in his Facebook Saturday, adding that many of the people he encountered there were being held without understanding the charges against them.  

“Syrian journalists like Jarrah, who have turned to Turkey for safe refuge, should be protected rather than subjected to detention and harassment,” CPJ said Friday.  

Jarrah’s arrest came amid ongoing fears over press freedom in Turkey. On one end, by the end of 2015, the Turkish government had imprisoned 14 journalists and earned a CPJ ranking as one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. On the other, extremists threaten the safety of journalists working in both countries. In December, Naji Jerf, a Syrian journalist who documented atrocities in Syria, was assassinated near the border in Turkey. 

Watch some of Jarrah’s footage from Syria below:

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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