Lebanese Daily Star on Detained Syrian Blogger Hussein Ghrer

BEIRUT: Rights groups are raising the alarm over the continued disappearance of journalists in Syria.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York based organization, Tuesday issued a statement saying that three new reporters have disappeared.

The latest is journalist Lina Saleh Ibrahim, 31, was last seen leaving her home in the Damascus suburb of Harasta on Tuesday. Ibrahim is a business reporter for the state-owned daily Tishreen.

Freelance reporter Wael Yousef Abaza also disappeared on Oct. 25 in Damascus, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression reported on Sunday.

Both journalists' families reported their respective disappearances to Syrian authorities but they have not responded, local journalists told CPJ.

Blogger Hussein Ghrer disappeared after leaving his home one day earlier, on Oct. 24, according to local and regional press freedom groups and bloggers.

Dozens of journalists and bloggers have been detained, arrested or have gone missing since the start of the country’s seven-month-old uprising, and most foreign journalists have been expelled or banned. Those that are able to work do so under strict government control.

“We’ve seen this pattern from the beginning,” said Nadim Houry, the Syria and Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Journalists, bloggers or anyone who tries to spread information about what’s going on in Syria puts themselves at risk.”

Kinda Kanbar, co-founder of Syria Today, an independent English language magazine, where Ibrahim has been a contributor, said the development is particularly concerning because now journalists without ties to the opposition are being arrested.

“It is very dangerous development that journalists are disappearing without knowing who is arresting them,” Kanbar told the Daily Star. “And now they are starting to crack down on Syrian [journalists] that are not known to be close to the opposition.”

She added that “the Syrian regime human rights violations have gone way, way out of hand and everyone who is not with the regime or disagree with the regime is in danger – not only journalists.”

Several days before his disappearance, Ghrer wrote on his blog, "Silence doesn't serve us after today. We don't want a country where we get imprisoned for uttering a word. We want a country that embraces and welcomes words." The blog includes news about activists detained in Syria.

"We are concerned for the safety of Lina Ibrahim, Wael Abaza, and Hussein Ghrer and other journalists who we believe to be in the custody of Syrian authorities," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "The government must immediately clarify whether it is holding these journalists, and if so, why."

On their website the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has the names of 20 journalists that remain detained, imprisoned or missing, but they say the list is “almost certainly incomplete.”

Government censorship and control of the media has been routine in Syria under ever since the country’s ruling Baath Party came to power in 1963. But as citizens have taken to the streets to demand freedom, some journalists have become emboldened to test the limits of free speech, often at their own peril.

In August, renowned political cartoonist Ali Farzat was severed beaten by masked gunmen, who broke his hand, days after the artist drew a caricature of President Bashar Assad hitching a ride with Moammar Gadhafi. Activists said the attack showed the government was losing control.

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