WORLDPOST

He Won't Be Home for the Holidays

12/23/2013 04:42 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2014

This isn't the first time that Syria has separated my friend Monica's family at Christmas. In 2011, she spent the holidays reporting from the besieged city of Homs, while her husband, Javier, stayed home in Beirut with their two children. But this year it's different: Javier is in Syria, held against his will by extremist Islamist fighters.

Javier Espinosa and the photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, both award-winning Spanish journalists with long experience covering the Syrian conflict, were seized during a reporting trip in September after fighting erupted between rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in northern Syria. Four FSA soldiers were also captured.

Since then, Monica Garcia Prieto, a celebrated Spanish reporter who has covered the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, has worked every contact she has to try to get Javier and Ricardo freed. She recorded an emotional video appeal, to no avail. The rebels released the four Syrians two weeks later, but they refuse to negotiate over her husband and his colleague.

Sadly, it's become a common story. This month the Committee to Protect Journalists said that at least 30 journalists are missing in Syria, which it described as the most dangerous country in the world for the media. It's hard to keep track of numbers, since many outlets and families choose to keep quiet about the missing in the hope of negotiating a return.

More than a dozen international media companies wrote to the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army about the "increasingly common risk of abduction." Because of the increased threat, they wrote, many outlets "have decided to limit their coverage of the war." In response, the SMC promised to protect and support journalists, but said that most people going after the journalists were outside their control.

Of course Syrian journalists are also at greatest risk -- including the many citizens and activists working to get information out about the fighting. One of the most prominent human rights defenders working inside Syria today, Razan Zeitouneh, was abducted by unknown forces on December 10, along with three colleagues. And a young freelance photographer was reported killed in Aleppo on Friday.

Among the other foreigners missing in Syria are the noted French foreign correspondent Didier Francois, another friend from Bosnia, Jim Foley, an American who was also held captive in Libya, a third Spanish reporter, two Swedish freelancers, and a Turkish photojournalist.

The world cannot learn about the horrors in Syria -- or anywhere else -- when journalists can't do their jobs. Their families need them home as soon as possible -- but so do we all.

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Emma Daly is the Communications Director at Human Rights Watch, overseeing all media communication coming from the organization, a position she has held since July 2007. Prior to that, she worked as Press Director after joining HRW in November 2005. Before joining Human Rights Watch, Daly spent 18 years as a journalist, mostly as a foreign correspondent, working for the New York Times, the Independent, Newsweek, the Observer and Reuters, among others. She has contributed to several books including "Secrets of the Press - the Penguin Book of Journalism" and "Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know." A native of the UK, Daly graduated from the University of East Anglia with a BA in Philosophy and Literature.