The captors of a journalist in Syria are threatening to execute her tomorrow (13 December) unless their demands for a $50m ransom are met.
Anhar Kochneva, a reporter with Russian and Ukrainian dual nationality, was kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) near the city of Homs at the beginning of October. She was said to be on assignment for several Russian media outlets.
In a second video, released on 28 November, she made a short statement in Arabic, as above, in which she says that her reason for being in Syria was to act as a translator for “Russian intelligence.”
A translation below the YouTube video runs (with a little editing by me) as follows:
“I’m Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian citizen who was living in Russia. I was born in 1972. I came to Syria on January 2012 as a journalist with a forged ID, but my main task was to translate between Syrian officers and their Russian counterparts.
I took part in battles in Baba Amro and Zabadani, and I was translating for a Russian officer, Peter Petrov, and Syrian officers, Essam Zahr al-Deen and Ali Hotham.
When I arrived in Syria, I met Brigadier General Asef Shawkat and he sent me to Homs. I worked also as a translator in Aleppo and Idlib and Zabadani… I’m here at the behest of Russian intelligence.
They [?] kidnapped me when I was returning from Tartous to Damascus with a captain in the Syrian army whom was assigned to protect me. I ask the governments of Russia and Ukraine to respond to the kidnappers’ request.”
European journalists’ organisations, including the Russian Union of Journalists, believe she was pressured to read that text. Her kidnappers have called her “a Ukrainian spy”.
“We are gravely concerned for the safety of Anhar Kochneva,” said Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). “Those who are holding her will be held responsible for summary execution if she is killed.”
The IFJ and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have called on those who are holding Kochneva to respect her right to life.
Her captors are believed to have demanded a ransom of $50m (£31m). “This blatant use of journalists as a money-spinning scheme is outrageous,” said Arne König, the EFJ’s president.
“She and her family should not be subjected to such a cruel blackmail. She should be released immediately and unharmed to be reunited with her relatives and colleagues.”
Both sides in the current Syrian conflict have been accused of serious violations, including arbitrary arrests and detention, kidnappings as well as killings of journalists and media workers.
At least three other journalists and media staff are either missing or held by warring factions in Syria. US freelance Austin Tice, who writes for the Washington Post and McClatchy newspapers, went missing in August 2012.
Palestinian Bashar Fahmi al-Kadumim of the Arabic-language television channel Al-Hurram, also disappeared in August in the city of Aleppo. And Mustafa al-Khateeb, a Syrian interpreter, was detained by the FSA in Bab al Salameh in October.
Sources: Syrian News/NUJ/IFJ/EFJ/YouTube