ISTANBUL – Two Turkish journalists who were detained in Syria for two months say they felt most at risk in the early stage of their captivity, when pro-government militiamen put guns to their heads and threatened them.
Journalists Adem Ozkose and Hamit Coskun arrived Sunday in Istanbul on a plane from Iran, whose government acted as an intermediary in their release. The pair were reported missing in the northern Syrian province of Idlib in early March, and were not heard from until last weekend when they made brief telephone calls to their families from detention in Damascus.
Ozkose, a reporter for Milat, a new Turkish newspaper, said he and Coskun were abducted by militiamen who had blocked a road and were stopping cars and abducting passengers.
"They would fire upon those who didn't stop. They stopped our car," Ozkose said at a news conference. "Then they blindfolded and handcuffed us and took us to a cellar."
He said he and Coskun were later held separately at a prison in Damascus, where they slept on a concrete floor.
Turkey has strained ties with Syria, which is trying to crush an anti-government uprising. Turkish officials had asked Iran, a staunch backer of Syria's President Bashar Assad, to help in efforts to release the journalists.
An Islamic aid group, known by Turkish acronym IHH, said it was involved in "humanitarian diplomacy" with Syrian and Iranian officials to secure the release of the journalists. The pair was first flown from Syria to Iran on Saturday before switching to a plane dispatched by the Turkish government to pick them up.
"We were in a cell without sunlight. We woke up to the same thing every day. Nothing ever changed. I didn't know what day it was when we landed in Tehran," Coskun said.
"Finding out what day it was made me happy. It made me appreciate freedom. Thank God we were saved but there are many others inside Syria waiting for freedom," he said.