BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian pro-government journalist has been released nearly eight months after he was detained by security agents and held incommunicado, activists and family members said Saturday.
The brother of Wissam al-Teer thanked Syria’s President Bashar Assad for the release in a Facebook post, in an apparent reference to a presidential amnesty. Other journalists and media groups also reported al-Teer’s release, suggesting Assad was behind it.
The Syrian government, embroiled in a civil war for eight years, is intolerant of criticism and its prisons are brimming with detainees, most of them considered opponents and many of them held for years.
But it is rare for the government to detain one of its supporters.
A new U.N. resolution passed in June, the first of its kind, addressing the issue of those missing in conflicts brought the fate of Syria’s missing to the fore.
The U.N. political chief said last week that reports suggest more than 100,000 people have been detained, abducted or gone missing in Syria during the war, with the government mainly responsible.
Families of the missing and detainees complain that the fate of their relatives has been ignored in talks to find a resolution for the Syrian conflict, now entering its ninth year. U.N. Security Council member states say the Syrian government has not provided a list of those detained, where they are held, or allowed access to detention sites.
Syrian authorities had not commented on al-Teer’s disappearance. His family said it first learned of al-Teer’s arrest through social media, despite recent official pleas that holding detainees incommunicado will be stopped.
Activists first reported al-Teer’s arrest, saying he and another journalist were detained in a raid in December. The colleague was later released.
Al-Teer’s detention compelled his family to issue a rare public appeal to authorities for information about their son.
“As if he disappeared, even though we are certain he is with security agencies,” his brother Mohamed Ismail said in an interview aired on a local Facebook page nearly a month after he was detained. “If Wissam has erred, he should get what he deserves. But at least we have the right to know his fate. To see him.”
Al-Teer, who served for years in the Syrian army, first covered the Syrian government’s military campaigns in opposition areas. He then launched and managed the popular Damascus Now page on Facebook, which reports news from government-held areas.
Before his disappearance, Damascus Now started a public survey calling on citizens to evaluate government performance and published reports on corruption, the reason his family believe he was detained. The page was shut down for a few days after his detention.