NABET-CWA Member, NBC Reporter and Producer Freed After Capture in Syria


From left: NBC's Ghazi Blakiz, Richard Engel and John Kooistra.

A NABET-CWA cameraman for NBC, along with a producer and news reporter Richard Engel, were freed after being held for five days by a Syrian militia group likely loyal to Syrian President Assad.

John Kooistra, a member of NABET-CWA Local 51011, NBC producer Ghazi Balkiz and Engel were attacked by a group of about 15 gunmen and forced into a container truck.

Engel told NBC: "We were with some gunmen, some rebels, who were escorting us. They executed one of them on the spot. Then they took us to a series of safe houses and interrogation places. And they kept us blindfolded, bound. We weren't physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture. Threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. When we refused, there were mock shootings."

Kooistra described how he had "made good with my maker" during the captivity and "prepared to die many times." Balkiz said the group "kept each other's spirits up."

Kooistra is a longtime NABET-CWA activist. During the ABC lockout in 1998, Kooistra, who was working at ABC, organized mobile picketing all over New York City to picket scab crews, recalled NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce. ABC suspended Kooistra, but he won his case in arbitration.

Separately TNG-CWA condemned the kidnapping in Syria of the NBC news crew and assaults by Israeli soldiers on two Reuters cameramen who report being struck by rifle butts, forced to strip and attacked with tear gas in Hebron last week.

TNG-CWA's Executive Board demanded immediate action to address both the assault on the Reuters cameramen and the NBC journalist and crew. "While we welcome the news that the Israel Defense Forces are looking into the allegations, an investigation by itself is not enough. The unconscionable actions in both Israel and Syria must have swift and serious consequences," the board said.