Kidnapped Ukrainian journalist reported free in Syria

New York, March 11, 2013--A Ukrainian journalist reportedly held by rebel forces in Syria since October is free, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and news reports citing the journalist's relatives. Most news reports characterized Anhar Kochneva as having fled her captors, but few details were reported about the circumstances.

Kochneva, who contributed to several Russian news outlets including the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today, disappeared on October 9 near the city of Homs while on assignment for the Russian television station NTV. She contacted her colleagues a few days later, claiming she was being held by rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, according to news reports. The Free Syrian Army is not a single, unified organization but an overarching name for numerous local militias that at times have conflicting agendas.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry previously told news outlets that it would be negotiating for her release. News accounts reported that Kochneva's captors had threatened to kill her if they did not receive a ransom of US$50 million. The ransom was later reduced to US$300,000.

Kochneva appeared in two videos in November, pleading for her embassy to meet the demands of her captors. News reports said at the time that the video was posted by the rebel Free Syrian Army. CPJ and other press freedom organizations believe Kochneva was coerced into making the videos, in which she "confessed" to working as a spy and asked for her captors' ransom demands to be met.

"All parties who believe in a free Syria must also believe in a free press in Syria," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "We call on all sides of the conflict to stop targeting journalists in Syria."

At least 21 local and international journalists, including Kochneva, were abducted in 2012 by various sides of the conflict, including government or pro-government militias; rebel or rebel-affiliated groups; and non-Syrian Islamic extremist groups, according to CPJ research. Most have been released.