The Newseum unveiled a 24-foot-long banner dedicated to kidnapped journalist Austin Tice (SFS ’02) Wednesday with a pledge to keep the banner hanging outside the museum’s Pennsylvania Avenue entrance until Tice is released.
More than 100 people, including Georgetown students and faculty, gathered for the unveiling ceremony, which was hosted in conjunction with Reporters Without Borders to coincide with the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Tice, whose whereabouts remain unknown since his 2012 kidnapping in Syria, is currently the only American journalist being held captive in the world.
Tice graduated from the School of Foreign Service and served as a captain in the Marine Corps before leaving between his second and third year at the Georgetown University Law Center to pursue a career as a freelance journalist.
Beginning in 2012, Tice contributed stories about the impact of Syria’s civil war on civilians to The Washington Post, the Associated Press, National Public Radio and the BBC. He disappeared Aug. 14, 2012, as he was preparing to travel from Daraya, Syria, to Beirut, Lebanon.
The last correspondence his family received was a video of a blindfolded Tice held by armed men a month after his disappearance. In partnership with the American division of Reporters Without Borders, his parents, Marc and Debra Tice, have continued to request aid to pursue his safe return home.
At the unveiling, Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst said the the banner’s location about a mile from the White House will remind the public of the dangers faced by the press around the world.
“It will be here, if he is not released beforehand, on Jan. 20 when the next president walks by,” Herbst said. “We hope we will take it down soon when he is released, but we are committed to working toward his freedom for the duration.”
Herbst introduced The Washington Post Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl, who drew parallels between Tice’s kidnapping and detainment of Iranian-American journalist and The Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, who was released in January after being convicted and jailed for espionage in Iran in 2015.
“The previous ordeal involving The Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian has also taught us that public attention is absolutely indispensible in persuading everyone concerned to help innocent journalists like Jason and Austin regain their freedom,” Jehl said.
Reporters Without Borders U.S. Director Delphine Halgand said her organization is focused on emphasizing the urgency of Tice’s case to the U.S. government. She cited sources in Syria who verify that Tice is still alive and is not being held by the Islamic State group.
“There has been no request for ransom, there has been no direct communication. What we know is that many high-level sources in different governments assure us that he’s alive, that he’s held captive somewhere in Syria,” Halgand said. “We know he is not held by ISIS, he is not held by Islamist groups, so it’s not a ransom issue.”
Tice’s mother Debra Tice thanked the Newseum, Reporters Without Borders and those attending the event for their commitment to her son’s freedom and pled for continued help in bringing him home.
“Austin has been held captive in Syria for 1,542 days,” Debra Tice said. “His captivity is indicative of the very real dangers journalists face as they exercise the fundamental human right to information, opinion and expression. We call on Austin’s captors to reach out and make it clear how we can resolve this situation and get our son safely home.”
Debra Tice said the banner marks a reminder to both the president and American citizens of the danger journalists face as well as the obligation to keep them safe.
“Austin’s continued captivity is indicative of the growing global indifference and even acceptance of efforts to silence journalists,” Debra Tice said. “With the hanging of this banner, here on America’s main street, we remind our president of his obligation to secure Austin’s safe release and we hope all Americans and every person who sees this banner will realize we have a duty to demand that universally agreed upon protections for journalists must be respected.”
Rep. John Delaney of Maryland (GRD ’88) attended the event and expressed his intention to use his congressional influence to assist in the return of a fellow Georgetown alumnus.
“We’ve been doing everything we can with me being in Congress to draw attention to this issue put our shoulder against it in any way we can,” Delaney said.
Georgetown Journalism Department Director Barbara Feinman Todd said in an interview with The Hoya that there are plans for continued student activism regarding Austin’s case.
“We would like to get a banner and hang it at Georgetown, a similar one. So that’s next on the list,” Feinman Todd said. “We’ve got a letter-writing campaign in the works — the students are doing a letter-writing campaign to the White House and we’ll be making the details public very soon.”
Feinman Todd also emphasized the importance of educating students on the issues of safety for those hoping to pursue international journalism.
“It’s very important for me as I’m sending students out into the world to become journalists themselves that it’s a safer world for them,” Feinman Todd said. “At the same time, there’s the tension of wanting to go out there and tell the stories, the kind of stories Austin was telling. He cared about the Syrian people, particularly Syrian children, and there aren’t enough people telling those stories. But it comes with such a great risk, it’s hard to expect people to do that.”
Representatives from Reporter Without Borders distributed #FreeAustin pins to the crowd, and Georgetown students who attended wore blindfolds with the hashtag #FreeAustinTice, previously used during an April demonstration at the White House.
A delegation of Georgetown students led by Ari Goldstein (COL ’18) and Emily Kaye (COL ’18), who are spearheading a student organization supporting the movement, said they used the blindfold to symbolize a world without journalists in which all people are blindfolded from information and truth.
Goldstein said Tice’s story resonated with him because of the journalist’s bravery and compassion in bringing awareness to struggles of Syrian civilian victims of the civil war.
“Austin’s story matter to me as a Hoya, it matters to me as an American, and this hanging of the banner was a pretty significant step forward. Even though it was just a banner, it’s part of a larger public campaign around Austin’s story that is beginning to take hold across the country,” Goldstein said.
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