Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK calls for the immediate release of fellow Arab journalist held captive in Philippines by Islamic militants

Old photo of Atyani while reporting from Asia

By Iqbal Tamimi

 

Baker
Atyani, a Jordanian reporter working for the television
channel al-Arabiya, is being held captive by the militant leader Radullan
Saheron on an island in the southern Philippines.

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Atyani, an Islamabad-based Jordanian reporter
working for the Middle East broadcast network
al-Arabiya, and two other Filipinos hired to help him with reporting, are being
held captive on Jolo island by the one-armed leader of the Islamist
militant group, Abu Sayyaf”.

 

“They are now being held against
their will,” the Filipino interior secretary, Jesse Robredo told reporters on Sunday in a text message. “There was no mention of ransom,
but one of the Filipino captives called his wife and asked her to contact his
company.” Said Robredo.

 

Robredo
said they presumed that the captive crew was asking something from his
employers, “but we cannot say if its ransom. We are keeping our lines open
for communication.”

 

The
two Filipinos, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, work for a Manila-based media
production house and were hired by Atyani. Al-Arabiya said it has lost contact
with Atyani.

 

Saheron
is one of two remaining Philippines Islamist militant leaders on the US State
Department’s terrorist watch list. The other is Isnilon Hapilon. Washington has
put up to US$5m bounty on their capture dead or alive. 

 

The
Philippines initially denied Atyani was a hostage, even though the Jordanian
foreign ministry issued a statement last week saying he was a captive in the
southern Philippines.

 

Reuters
reported Atyani arrived on June 11 at the island stronghold of Abu Sayyaf,
notorious for kidnap-for-ransom and for beheading captives. The militants are
now holding two Chinese, an Australian, two Europeans and Japanese as captives
on Jolo and nearby Basilan islands.

The
next day, Atyani and his crew were seen boarding a mini-bus to the island’s
interior, seeking an interview with Yasser Igasan, an Islamist militant leader
with connections to al Qaeda and Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah
Islamiya.

 

Iqbal
Tamimi, Director of Arab Women
Media Watch in the UK, condemned
the continuous targeting of journalists and called for an immediate release of
Atyani and his colleagues.

‘I  interviewed Baker Atyani back in
2006 about the dangers he was facing as a journalist reporting from dangerous
zones, and the difficulties he faced as a reporter when he interviewed Al Qaeda
leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Thawahiry on the 21st of
June 2001.  Atyani is a dedicated journalist who provided the news
department with brilliant reports. He is a professional journalist of high
ethical standards who did not mind going the extra mile to secure an important
interview. He has always put his work ahead of his own life and safety, even
though he is married and have little children to worry about’ said Tamimi, who worked directly with Atyani at mbc
and al-Arabiya television channels.

 

 
Atyani started his television reporting career with the mbc
television channel in Dubai covering a
series of explosions  in
Pakistan in May 1998. Before that,
he worked with the international television news agency WTN.

 

Atyani’s
first journalistic mission after Pakistan was in the Philippines, where
he produced a series of special reports on the armed movements in the south of the country. He
managed to reach the stronghold of the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front’s Abu Baker Camp, and met the leader of the front, the now-deceased Salamat Hashim, and the then commander
of the military Al Haj Murad, who replaced Hashim as a commander of the front.
Atyani managed to move inside the camp and to film their troops and their
military exercises.

 

‘As
a journalist and an NUJ member I appeal to all those who are concerned to
secure the safe release of Atyani and other detained fellow journalists.
Without the dedication of such reporters, the worldwide audience would have had no idea about
terrorism in that part of the world. And on this occasion I would like to
highlight the need to establish trade unions in Arab countries, especially in
the GCC, and particularly in UAE where trade unions are still banned, to offer
their solidarity and support for journalists and their families,’ said Tamimi.

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