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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Missing German Reporter Released by Syrian Government

The Syrian government released a German journalist who went missing more then two months ago on Tuesday, saying the man had entered the country illegally but would be turned over to the Russian ambassador and sent home.

A German reporter missing in Syria since December was released by the Syrian government during a press conference on Tuesday.Website of the Syrian Arab News Agency A German reporter missing in Syria since December was released by the Syrian government during a press conference on Tuesday.

Mr. Six, 26, is a freelance journalist who was working for the German magazine Junge Freiheit when he went missing after Christmas. Looking unkempt and out of place, he stood behind a bank of microphones beside Syria’s Deputy Foreign Miniter Fayssal Mikdad as he read a statement announcing his release and chastising him and other reporters for entering the country without official permission.

Syria has barred most journalists from entering since the start of a popular uprising two years ago and 28 were killed while working there in 2012, making it the single deadliest country on Earth in which to be a journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Nevertheless, Mr. Mikdad used the occasion of Mr. Six’s release to announce that “Our border crossings are open to journalists who are objective and interested in truth. We respect the role of journalism and press in this regard,” according to remarks published by Syrian state media. Referring to Mr. Six, it added that Mr. Mikdad, “wished the journalist ! well.”

The Syrian Arab News Network posted an update on Twitter to announce Mr. Six’s release and to reiterate the government’s position that by entering the country, Mr. Six broke the law.

Although Mr. Six was working as a reporter at the time of his disappearance, he first came to media attention in April 2011 as “an intrepid backpacker from Germany,” when Eric Westervelt, a reporter for National Public Radio, did a five-minute long profile on him entitled “Backpacking through the revolutions of North Africa.”

Mr. Six was “walking and hitch-hiking across North Africa” in a traditional white robe and skullcap, said Mr. Westervelt, who met him both in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, where he asked for a picture next to a tank, and again in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where he was seeking passage aboard a ferry to the besieged town of Misurata.

In the profile, Mr. Six, who said his travels helped him to “find God,” said he was drawn to strife-ridden countries like Libya because, “I want to go to the places where I don’t meet all those tourist people who do the normal stuff.”

Mr. Six said he was also arrested at least twice before during his travels: Once by Egyptian state security and once by Libyan rebels in Benghazi.

There is trouble nearly everywhere in Africa so it’s not a new thing here. I didn’t see anything bad until now. They arrested me sometimes, talking and asking a lot of q! uestions.! Very funny - people who are very, very important - but they let me out and everything was ok. Hakuna matata.

When Mr. Westervelt asked Mr. Six if people thought he was “crazy,” Mr. Six responded:

Maybe I am crazy. But I really know now what is going on. I also know these are not dangerous people, these are very, very nice, friendly people. They tried to help me with everything they could do.

Mr. Six is far from the first young man to head into an unstable country of conflict zone seeking adventure, nor is he the first to take up work as a journalist along the way. Matthias Gebauer, a correspondent for the online edition of German magazine Der Spiegel, posted an update on Twitter describing Mr. Six as a “wanna-be journalist,” drawing a quick rebuke from Dieter Stein, the editor of Junge Freiheit.

There are still at least seven journalists missing in Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, including American freelancers James Foley and Austin Tice. Liz Sly, Beirut bu! reau chie! f for the Washington Post, drew attention to the continued disappearance of Mr. Tice even as she celebrated Mr. Six’s release.

On Monday, Mr. Foley’s family released a statement asking for information about his whereabouts and condition. “Someone in Syria knows what happened to Jim and we hope they will contact us,” said John Foley, his father, in the statement. Mr. Foley has been missing for more than 100 days.

Austin Tice, a freelance journalist working for The Washington Post and McClatchy Nwspapers disappeared on his way from Syria to Lebanon in August 2012. In October, a video appeared on YouTube that claimed to show him in the custody of a jihadist rebel group, although many raised questions about its authenticity. He is believed to be in the custody of the Syrian government. He was part of a team at McClatchy Newspapers that won a George Polk Award for its coverage of Syria in February.

In addition to Mr. Tice and Mr. Foley, there are at least two Arab and one Turkish journalist missing in Syria as well, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin employed by al-Hurra, a U.S.-funded Arab satellite network, was reported missing along with his Turkish cameraman, Cüneyt Ünal, in August. Mohamed al-Saeed, a ! talk show! host on Syrian state TV, was kidnapped in Damascus in July. Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel group linked to Al Qaeda, claimed to have beheaded him in August but that claims has never been independently confirmed.