19 December 2019 | Image: Shireen Mohamed, the mother of Shiraaz Mohamed (supplied)
The family of Shiraaz Mohamed, the previously kidnapped South African journalist, has released a statement that is extrememly critical of the Gift of the Givers, a major humanitarian aid agency in the country.
Shiraaz went missing in Syria in January 2017 while trying to return to the Turkish border in war torn Syria. He had gone to document the work of the GOTG, particularly around their hospital project in the town of Darkoush in north west Syria.
Over the next 35 months, several videos were released by the groups holding him as negotiations continued. Earlier in 2019, the Gift of the Givers pulled out of the process claiming that the family had chosen an alternative route to get the journalist released.
On Sunday, 15 December 2019, the organisation surprisingly released a statement saying they had been informed by an anonymous source, despite not being involved, that Shiraaz had escaped from his captors and that a photo was provided as proof.
The family of the journalist chose not to immediately respond to media requests for information but have since released a press statement in the name of Shireen Mohamed, Shiraaz’s mother.
The statment was highly critical of the Gift of the Givers in which she raised 6 points:
(1) For two and a half years, we believed and trusted Gift of the Givers (GOTG) to bring my son home after the organisation took him to Syria to cover its winter campaign. We were forced to seek other help because Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman failed in his promises to free Shiraaz from his captors and bring him home to me. There was no progress, only media hype.
(2) For the past seven months, GOTG has not been involved in negotiations because the organisation chose not to be part of a collaborative effort to get Shiraaz home. In October 2019, we again appealed to Dr. Sooliman for help with information on other organisations or anyone else who could possibly assist us towards meeting our target of $700 000 (USD). He refused.
(3) In relation to the news regarding my son’s ‘escape’, Dr Sooliman sent a Whatsapp message at 11:33pm on Saturday night. However, through the efforts of our collaborative partners, this information was made available to us earlier in the day. In the media Dr. Sooliman spoke about how happy the family was, however he has had no direct contact with me apart from the WhatsApp message.
(4) On Sunday morning, the family was shocked to hear news reports about Shiraaz’s ‘escape’ from the media based on Gift of the Givers press statement. We had expressly requested that this information not be shared until we received official confirmation from authorities. We explained to Dr Sooliman that it was premature and may endanger Shiraaz’s life. He continued to bombard the media space, with complete disregard for Shiraaz’s safety, sharing unverified information and creating false expectations of his return this weekend. This has now created complications for my son’s return to us.
(5) Dr. Sooliman does not have my permission or Shiraaz’s permission to speak about efforts to get him home. As his family, we do not yet fully know what transpired, to be talking about it.
(6) I need my son home. I do not want my son home in a body bag because of reckless comments.
Despite repeated attempts, Salaamedia was unable to reach Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the head of the Gift of the Givers for comment.
In previous engagements with the family, Shireen Mohamed expressed the pain and hardship she has experienced in trying to get her son home, as depicted in the video below.
While the famil y has expressed some relief at the news of Shiraaz’s escape, they were still extremely worried and called on media to respect their privacy at this point.