Last updated: 5 March, 2013

Damascus hands German journalist to Russian envoy

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad on Tuesday handed over to the Russian ambassador a German journalist, Billy Six, whose employers said they had not known for weeks whether he was alive.

“The aim of the meeting is to hand over the German journalist to the Russian ambassador,” Muqdad said at a press conference in Damascus.

“As (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov asked us to mediate and solve the problem of German journalist Billy Six’s release, we told him we were ready to help, though we once again expressed our reservations about those entering illegally into Syria,” said Muqdad.

Six shook hands with Muqdad and Russian ambassador Azamatullah Kol Mohamadov after the two men addressed journalists.

Muqdad gave no further details concerning the reporter, and did not say whether he had been imprisoned.

Six’s employer Junge Freiheit confirmed in a statement that he was free and said it had decided after talks with German authorities, journalists and Syria experts not to publicise his disappearance “out of concerns for Billy’s life”.

“He worked for us last year in Syria. His first article was dated August 22, 2012, and his last on November 19,” spokesman Bastian Behrens said, giving the journalist’s age at about 26.

He is one of 200 independent journalists working for the weekly, which has an average of 50,000 readers, he added.

Editor-in-chief Dieter Stein also breathed a sigh of relief.

“For weeks we did not know anything about Billy’s whereabouts. We did not even know whether he was still alive. I would like to thank the authorities and the Russians in particular, whose efforts were decisive in securing his release.”

The weekly said it had informed Six’s parents and quoted his father as saying: “A heavy burden has been lifted off our shoulders today.”

Meanwhile the German foreign ministry told AFP it had been working “very intensely” to secure the release of one of its citizens.

“We can only confirm that we are working very intensely to solve the case of a German citizen who has been reportedly missing in Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told AFP, without providing any further details.

International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has described Syria as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.