London 3 September, 2014 – PEN International is shocked and deeply saddened by the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff by the militant group Islamic State (IS). The group released a video on Tuesday showing the beheading of Sotloff 31, two weeks after the group murdered journalist James Foley. Sotloff, a freelance journalist, who wrote for various news organisations including TIME and Foreign Policy, was taken hostage in northern Syria in August 2013.
‘We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death. He, like James Foley, went to Syria to cover the plight of the Syrian people and to tell the rest of the world the horrors they face. Deliberate murder of civilians and hostage taking during an armed conflict are war crimes and those who commit them must be brought to justice.’ – Carles Torner, PEN International Executive Director.
Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the spring of 2011 which is now a full-fledged war. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 70 journalists have been killed covering the conflict there, with an estimated 20 journalists still missing in Syria.
Since March 2011, well over 100 citizen journalists have been killed in Syria, most by government snipers, or as a result of torture. Increasingly, they are being targeted by armed opposition groups like Islamic State. Dozens who have done nothing more than to witness, report, film, and photograph acts of violence have been arrested and many have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Writers and journalists are amongst those at risk of political and sectarian violence from government forces, pro-government militias and armed opposition groups, both in Syria and neighbouring countries.
PEN International calls on all groups detaining journalists to immediately release them. Freedom of expression plays an invaluable role, particularly important in times of war, as only through access to a wide spectrum of reporting can people come to understand the reality of what is happening. Without the evidence that journalists gather, documentation of human rights violations including war crimes and potential crimes against humanity is made more difficult, leaving victims and their loved ones without access to justice in the future.