Fears are growing for the safety of journalist Anhar Kochneva, who was kidnapped in Syria in October and remains imprisoned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Kochneva, who has Russian and Ukrainian nationality, was threatened with execution last week unless the FSA’s ransom demands were met.
The Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) said Kochneva was kidnapped near the Syrian city of Homs at the beginning of October while reporting for a number of prominent Russian media outlets.
On 7 November she appeared in an online video appealing to the embassies of Ukraine and Russia and the Syrian government to meet her captors’ demands.
In a second video, released on 28 November, Kochneva read out a text in Arabic admitting to having “participated in the battles, translated for and supported Syrian and Russian officers, worked as a military interpreter”.
The RUJ said that both appeals appear to have been made while Kochneva was under duress.
Her kidnappers, named as Free Syrian Army commanders Aby Jamal and Farid Abu Hussein, are reportedly demanding a ransom of $50m. The ransom deadline passed Thursday.
“This news is very alarming indeed and we are gravely concerned for the safety of Anhar Kochneva,” said Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists.
“Those who are holding her will be held responsible for summary execution if she is killed.”
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) accused the FSA of putting the journalist’s life in danger for financial gains.
“This blatant use of journalists as a money spinning scheme is outrageous,” said EFJ president Arne König.
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.”
The Kyiv Post yesterday quoted Syrian rebels claiming the Ukrainian government is doing nothing to free Kochneva.
"When we were negotiating with the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian Embassy, they did not keep their promises, and they did nothing to free Anhar,” they said, adding: "The woman stayed with us for a long time, as nobody responded to our requests and questions about what we can be offered in exchange for her release,"
The rebels reportedly claimed they planned to execute Kochneva on December 16 but decided to “give her a second chance”.
At least three other journalists are either missing or held by warring factions in Syria, according to the National Union of Journalists.
US freelance journalist Austin Tice, who writes for The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers, and went missing this summer, in August 2012
Meanwhile, Palestinian Bashar Fahmi al-Kadumi, of the Arabic-language television channel Al-
Hurra, disappeared during the same month in the city of Aleppo.
And the third known victim is Mustafa al-Khateeb, a Syrian interpreter, who was arrested by the FSA in the city of Bab al Salameh in October.