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Several Journalists Briefly Detained While Covering Protest in Syria

FILE - Protesters demonstrate outside a U.N. building, in the northeast city of Qamishli, Nov. 28, 2021. Numerous journalists covering a demonstration on Dec. 7, 2021, were temporarily detained.

Local security authorities briefly detained eight reporters and personnel from international and regional news organizations Tuesday as the journalists covered a demonstration in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli.

While reporting a demonstration outside the United Nations offices in Qamishli against the recruitment of children by local military organizations, the reporters and staff were arrested and briefly put into police custody for investigation, according to one of the journalists.

"I was detained and taken by force into one of the security forces' cars," Jomaa Akkash, who works as a correspondent for the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, wrote on his Facebook page after he was released.

"Two masked members [of the security forces] surrounded me, took my equipment and cell phone, and then I was taken to a security headquarters where I was detained for several hours before meeting with the leadership of the security forces who apologized, saying there had been a misunderstanding in the situation," Akkash said.

He added that another reporter, working for Russia's state-funded RT Arabic, as well as several employees of Rudaw TV, also were detained and released later.

Rudaw TV is a pan-Kurdish news network based in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, and funded by the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The network confirmed that six of its reporters and staff employees were detained briefly in Qamishli.

"Our reporter and cameraman went outside the office to begin live coverage [about the protest] but the security forces didn't allow them to do their job. So, they came back to the building to do the live coverage from our rooftop, but the security forces still didn't let them do it," Fahad Sabri, head of Rudaw's bureau in Qamishli, told his network in a live broadcast.

He added that security forces confiscated their equipment and "took all six of us who were present at the office to the security headquarters," noting, "They held us for about two hours before they questioned us and then apologized for a misunderstanding that occurred because of wrong intelligence."

Abdullah Sadoun, an official at the media office of the security forces at the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, told VOA the incident was the result of "a misunderstanding," but refused to give further details.

The northeast is mostly under the control of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in the war-torn country. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is affiliated with the SDF.

The semiautonomous region is largely seen as friendly to international journalists, but local reporters occasionally have been persecuted, detained and harassed for critical reporting on the local administration, according to local news reports.

According to Sabri of Rudaw, the network's journalists in northeast Syria encounter many challenges in their work.

"Local government agencies don't cooperate with our journalists," he said. "Most of the time, it is really hard to get an interview with their officials."

Rudaw TV's office in Qamishli has been targeted in the past several months by individuals whom the news network said are believed to be part of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, a group affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the de facto ruling party in the northeast. The latest attack was in September, when three masked men set Rudaw's office on fire late one night, causing material damage to the facility.

Syria ranks 173rd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index, where 1 is the freest. Since the start of Syria's conflict in 2011, media watchdogs say more than 200 journalists have been killed, mostly by government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and militant groups.

This story originated in VOA's Kurdish Service.