7 Years Gone: Austin Tice Still in Syria

And more press freedom news in this issue of Pressing.

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the tenth issue of Pressing and we’ve got a lot of news from the U.S. and around the world. Please keep the feedback coming and send thoughts, suggestions, and tips my way at sgnover@gmail.com. Let’s jump in.

The Wrong Kind of Anniversaries

Dates and anniversaries are important to families who’ve endured the worst kind of waiting. For the family of Austin Tice, the journalist who went missing in Syria in 2012, there are two important dates and anniversaries this week. First a birthday: Sunday was Austin’s 38th birthday. Parents Marc and Debra haven’t celebrated a birthday with their son since he turned 31. Since then, he’s been held captive and they’ve had access to limited information from the U.S. government, which has attempted to bring Austin home.

And it’ll be seven years tomorrow: He went missing on August 14, 2012.

Austin, a Marine veteran who was attending Georgetown University at the time of his capture, went to Syria to document the war as a freelance reporter and photographer. He worked for the Washington Post and the McClatchy newspaper chain among other outlets.

Marc and Debra wrote an op-ed that’s been published in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Tennessean, the Bergen Record, the Miami Herald, the Butler Eagle, the Arizona Daily Star, the Pensacola News Journal, CNN, and surely others that I have missed.

The op-ed marked the launch of the new “Ask About Austin” campaign. In the op-ed, they give specifics for how ordinary people can help:

Go to AskAboutAustinTice.org to send messages to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and your members of Congress. Add your signature to a petition to the U.S. government asking that all available diplomatic means be used to bring Austin safely home.

If you are in the Washington, D.C., metro area, please sign up to volunteer on Sept. 23, when we plan to canvass Capitol Hill to raise awareness for Austin and make sure every member of Congress knows about the upcoming two-day exhibit of Austin’s photos from Syria, beginning Sept. 30 in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Around this time every year, public pressure mounts on Austin’s behalf. Luckily, Marc and Debra aren’t screaming into the void. “It’s been seven years. Let Austin Tice go,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote last week. “Austin Tice Has Been Held Captive for Nearly 7 Years. He Must Be Freed,” the New York Times editorial board chimed in.

Kery Murakami also wrote an insightful piece for the Post about perhaps the most visible facet of Austin’s captivity: the banner that’s adorned the front of the Newseum since 2016. He begins:

Every day and night, Austin Tice looks out on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For almost three years, he has smiled from the banner that hangs on the Newseum, as if to say, “Hey, don’t forget about me. I’m still out here, somewhere.”

Last Thursday afternoon, people walking past the banner of Tice, a freelance journalist who has been held hostage for nearly seven years since being detained near Damascus, Syria, largely ignored him.

But from time to time he enters, albeit briefly, in the thoughts of passersby.

But, when the Newseum leaves its prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the U.S. Capitol, what will happen to the banner? Along with the fate of the Newseum, which sold its iconic building to Johns Hopkins University earlier this year, the banner’s new location is also to be determined.


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‘10 Most Urgent’ Press Freedom List

Time published the One Free Press Coalition’s updated list of the ‘10 Most Urgent’ press freedom cases around the world. (Time is a member of the coalition.) The list updates monthly, but here’s the latest incarnation:

  1. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia): Stonewalling continues after new UN report implicates Saudi prince for journalist’s murder.

  2. Azory Gwanda (Tanzania): Tanzanian official claims missing journalist is dead—then backtracks.

  3. Juan Pardinas (Mexico): Mexican newspaper editor targeted with death threats for criticizing new president.

  4. Paul Chouta (Cameroon): Journalist in maximum security prison blocked from seeing family.

  5. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan): Kyrgyz court upholds life sentence for documenting human rights abuses.

  6. Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak (Turkey): Turkish journalist faces 30 years in solitary confinement.

  7. Marzieh Amiri (Iran): Imprisoned journalist denied healthcare after covering May Day demonstrations.

  8. Jones Abiri (Nigeria): Journalist re-arrested on terrorism and cybercrime charges.

  9. Aasif Sultan (India): Journalist imprisoned one year without due process for covering conflict.

  10. Truong Duy Nhat (Vietnam): Blogger who disappeared in Thailand imprisoned in Vietnam.

You can read full descriptions of these abuses here.


In my inbox… Jason Rezaian, former Tehran bureau chief and current global opinions columnist for the Washington Post — and a very important friend of the newsletter! — will be honored by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia with a 2019 Atlas Award. Congrats to Jason, who will receive the award on Aug. 20!


Big Win for Greenwald in Brazil

The Intercept and co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald scored a crucial victory from the Brazilian Supreme Court, as reported by Trevor Timm. After Greenwald and co. reported extensively on Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro’s potential corruption, a member of the Supreme Court blocked Moro and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro from investigating the journalists over their reporting.

Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes wrote that it would “constitute an unambiguous act of censorship” and would violate Brazil’s constitution. “In a win for all Brazilian journalists, Mendes’s stirring opinion went far beyond the case at hand and invoked a powerful and broad defense of journalists’ rights,” Timm wrote.

Must-Read of the Week

Former Obama Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote the best thing I read this week. “What Happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?” is a nuanced look at the evolution of the Burmese politician from political heiress to freedom fighter to imprisoned symbol of human rights to worldwide disappointment. Rhodes writes:

The government Suu Kyi is now a part of—in April 2016 she became state counselor, a role similar to prime minister, after her party won a national election—has curtailed civil liberties and press freedoms, and carried out what the United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Others have called it a genocide. Since 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced across the border to Bangladesh, into refugee camps, where disease is rampant and the children are malnourished and have almost no access to education.

Rhodes focuses on human rights more than press freedom restrictions, but certainly mentions them. (You’ll remember that two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were detained in Myanmar on Dec. 12, 2017 and were held until May 6, 2019.)

Rhodes’ piece is in The Atlantics forthcoming September issue.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.