The parents of an American journalist who has been missing in Syria for over three months, have appealed for information about the whereabouts of their son, noting that they have had no contact with the photojournalist and are still unsure as to his whereabouts or who is holding him.
Marc and Debra Tice spoke to members of the press in Beirut on Monday, where they requested anyone with any information regarding their son’s situation to come forward and contact them.
Austin Tice, 31, a freelance journalist who had contributed to McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post, CBS News, Al Jazeera English and Agence France-Presse, is last known to have been in Daraya, near Damascus. Following his abduction a 47-second YouTube video appearing to show Tice being led by rebels or jihadists was posted in September, although its authenticity has subsequently been called into question. Sources have since suggested that the video was a government ploy, and that Tice is in fact being held by the Syrian authorities.
During the press conference on Monday, Tice’s parents made impassioned pleas for information about their son. “Is he well?” Marc asked. “How can we contact him? And how can we return him to our family? If anyone who hears this has any information about Austin, especially what we can do to bring him home, please contact us.”
“With the approaching holiday season, we are even more dismayed by the empty chair at our family table,” Debra said, noting “we miss Austin’s knowing smile, his big laugh and his great storytelling. The energetic joy in our home has been greatly diminished.”
The eldest of seven sons, Austin had remained in contact with his family through social media until his disappearance.
"Our search for our son and our decision to come to this area was driven by the fact that we want to expand our effort and put ourselves in a position of being available for contact," the mother said.
“Austin is a cherished son and beloved brother. If he were your son or brother, I ask, what would you do to find him and return him to your family?" she added.
Dangers of social media
Doha Centre for Media Freedom spoke to Roy Gutman, Europe Bureau Chief for McClatchy, who said that a combination of factors may have led to Tice being in a particularly vulnerable position.
A tendency to take risks in his work, the lack of a dedicated editor monitoring him at all times and his failure to fully recognise the dangers of posting his stories and comments on social media were likely to have contributed towards Tice being monitored and his resultant abduction.
Tice is an avid user of social networks and posted regular updates on what he was doing at any given time, as well as the reports published as a result of his travelling.
In fact, the day before his disappearance, he had tweeted “Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by
@taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever”
However, the rise of the Syrian Electronic Army is an indication of the way in which the battle for Syria has extended to a digital frontline, and how social media is being monitored by the authorities.
Gutman suggested that Tice’s prominent use of Twitter and Facebook could have led to him becoming a target.
The McClatchy employee also said that the credibility of the YouTube video featuring Tice has been seriously questioned. “People have analysed the footage on behalf of news organisations and they have said it was staged,” he explained.
US State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said that the government believes that Tice has been detained by Syrian authorities, noting: "We continue to work through our various channels, including the protecting power, to urge the Syrian regime to be more forthcoming," she said
Government denies knowledge of whereabouts
Marc said that the family had “indirectly and directly” contacted the government in Syria, who had said that they have no knowledge related to the journalist’s current location.
He added that the Tice’s are “reaching out to everyone that we can get in touch with to try to get their help in determining where Austin is and what we need to do bring him home.”
Debra explained that she sent a message to Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Jihad Makdissi, asking him to have compassion for the family “and release our son, Austin Tice, to us.”
In reply, she received the following message: “If he is to be found inside Sy. I am def sure ur gov will B notified. R u sure he is inside Syria? Reports he entered illegally.”
DCMF has called on whoever is holding Tice to release him immediately, and other international rights groups have also condemned his detention, urging the authorities to take action to secure his release.
Marc Tice noted: “"We know that we’re not the only family that’s suffering. Austin’s silence gave us some understanding about the anxieties and uncertainty that so many families in this part of world face."
“We ask whoever is holding Austin to please treat him well, keep him safe and return him to us as soon as you can,” he added.
Source: DCMF, AFP
The email address for anyone with information regarding Austin's whereabouts is firstname.lastname@example.org