Several times each year I have friends ask me to share different aspects on what motivates me to write. Sometimes I halfway chisel out a post, but it rarely comes close to what I mean.
Certain themes in my current novel project, Never Said, are so large I can only imagine them through the one-inch-frame of individual character experience. War, all around us, impacting citizens despite peace. What pulls a person into participating in war — especially the wars dotting our planet at any time, where hate or fear stretch back generations until one day, one side begins to organize, to amass ammunition?
Journalists at Risk
There is another theme running parallel, that I haven’t often found voice adequate to share about.
When my son was one, I watched journalist Daniel Pearl’s wife interviewed on Oprah, telling about the morning he kissed her goodbye in Paris, patted her pregnant belly, and left on an assignment in the Middle East. She spoke of how a fixer led him into an ambush. Pearl was captured, a ransom video mailed to his editors. He was later beheaded.
I want to untype that sentence. More than ten years after hearing the story, it’s chilling. I want to undo that truth.
After that, I wrote about India for awhile. I started Never Said in response to a trip to Ireland, and then to the emotion of a friend’s son deploying to Baghdad.
Somewhere in the rabbit holes of my research — international affairs, international treaties, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; even after that, something mild in passing — I met the kernel of a passionate cause.
I don’t remember which of these two I discovered first: the CPJ — Committee to Protect Journalists, who report on the continual disappearance, murder, imprisonment or interrogation of journalists around the world.
Or Austin Tice.
Freelance Journalist Austin Tice
Austin Tice is a Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown Law student, who was working as a freelance journalist providing photographs to the Washington Post, English Aljezeera or other media outlets.
I first heard of him when I stumbled on his Twitter stream some time last year.
It reads like poetry, each thread of his dedication to reporting, the worst days of violence, his own reactions, his momentary happiness in the last tweet, celebrating his birthday.
Listening to the shells usher in my birthday. Afghanistan, California, DC, Egypt, Turkey, Syria. What an insane year.
— Austin Tice (@Austin_Tice) August 10, 2012
Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever.
— Austin Tice (@Austin_Tice) August 11, 2012
Austin is a talented photographer and covered several domestic and international stories in 2012. In the summer, he went to Syria to report on the war between the government and rebel soldiers.
Photographs on his Flickr account reveal Austin’s glimpse into the war. His personality is there as well: his sensitivity to an injured child, boys laughing as they rode bicycles, a community working together to clean up after a bombing, a tranquil little girl resting on a wall, his dry wit observing the personality revealed in the stylish outfit of a rebel soldier.
729 Days Missing
Austin’s parents spoke to him every day while he was on assignment. The stream above shows his last two tweets: the last, on his 31st birthday.
On August 14, 2012, he disappeared.
Syria was the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. The CPJ reports that 31 of the 74 journalists killed worldwide were in Syria.
But Austin is not on list of journalists killed.
Also according to the CPJ, “Cases of journalists missing in Syria are extremely difficult to track. Information is scarce, the situation is constantly changing, and some cases go unreported.”
On August 30, 2012, the CPJ issued a statement calling for Austin Tice to be released, which reported that he was believed to be detained by government forces.
In all reporting I have seen, there is a continued belief that Austin is alive and detained in Syria.
The CPJ includes his status on their “Imprisoned” list. In August 2013, other journalists who had been missing escaped, adding encouragement of the possibility he could be held despite the government’s denial.
As his parents mark Austin’s 33rd birthday, their local news station provided this coverage, reiterating a belief that he is still alive, although his family does not know where or by whom he is held. FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston
I’m not alone in the impact Tice’s story has had. As Michigan Times staff writer Heeba Dlewati talks about dangers for journalists in her March 2013 article, “The Human Element: Missing the Truth” , she says, “The story of one journalist continues to haunt me, the story of Austin Tice.”
Austin’s story was repeated on the floor of Congress Monday and he is followed by journalists around the world, including Richard Engel, who has himself been detained while reporting on conflicts overseas.
What Can We Do?
You can show that Austin is not forgotten and support his friends and family by tweeting your thoughts using the hashtag #FreeAustinTice (you can follow @FreeAustinTice for more), especially this Thursday, August 14, 2014.
Beyond that, one of the most important things we can do is to realize the need to ensure press freedom throughout the world. Often, the frontline bravery shown by reporters to put the truth into words and images is the most powerful tool we have to battle the kinds of atrocities history has shown to take place when no one is watching.
Reporter Emma Beals shares her first-hand fears of abduction while reporting in Syria in “More and More Journalists Being Kidnapped in Syria.”
Journalists, photographers, translators and fixers covering conflict abroad need our support.
At the same time, you might notice there is often a “radio silence” around abductions. I’ll add a link if I find an explanation, but international news agencies often intentionally do not broadcast news of journalist abductions in order to prevent terrorists from using abductions as a means to gain media spotlight. It’s argued that this helps protect the journalists, but often diminishes public outcry in support of a missing person.
In a similar vein, on July 30, 2014, The New York Times featured this article, suggesting Europe Bankrolls Al Queda Terrorism by Paying Ransoms.
If you want to learn more about what can be done: You can offer your voice in support of individual journalists by connecting with web accounts like the ones set up to support Austin. Or, look for more resources from government agencies and NGOs through resources like the CPJ “Assistance” page .
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Respect for Austin’s Safety
In sharing this post, what matters most is the safe return of Austin Tice. I am not a frontline reporter and have relied on national reporting and the articles listed to share Austin’s story. If any family member of Austin’s or anyone else affiliated with his safe return believes that I have in any way misstated, overstated, understated or in any other way included details that could put Austin at risk, please use the contact form on the Welcome page to email me, and I will make immediate corrections. (Update: I received a message from Austin’s father hours after posting this, expressing appreciation and sharing additional links. I can’t overstate the emotion I feel for what this family goes through.)