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Colin Pereira is a security expert with The Committee to Protect Journalists

"There are generally two types of motivation for the abduction of a journalist in the Middle East and North Africa

The first is simple, namely profit, and this is known as kidnap for ransom.  Such kidnaps are generally carried out by criminal groups who have identified individuals they think friends, family or governments may pay a ransom for. The second is intimidation and is generally carried for political or terrorist objectives.

It is important for you, as a journalist, to evaluate whether you are at risk of kidnap for either or both of these motives, and if so, amend your behaviour to reduce the risk.

If you live in an area where kidnap for ransom is a problem, you should adopt a lifestyle that is as low key as possible. Any outward sign of wealth can attract unwanted attention, such as wearing expensive watches or jewellery.

If you believe you are at risk, be honest with yourself. You may choose to leave your country or region for a period of time after publishing a risky or controversial story. 

Professional kidnappers will generally research their targets, so be conscious of any surveillance as you go about your business.  However, you should not rule out the potential of being a victim of an opportunistic abduction. Journalists often find themselves operating in remote or dangerous locations frequented by criminals. So, if your work takes you to such a location be particularly conscious of your safety and do a full risk assessment. If the risk is too high, consider not going as the story is not worth becoming a victim for.

In cases where journalists are kidnapped for intimidation, the trigger will generally be something they have written or said.  The abductors are trying to silence the journalist and send out a message to others not to attempt similar reporting. Journalists exposed to such threats will generally be working in environments where impunity from the law is commonplace.

If you believe you are at risk, then you need to be honest with yourself. You may choose to leave your country or region for a period of time after publishing a risky or controversial story. You could also choose to report on the issue anonymously.

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself – “Will my work get me into trouble and is this a price I am willing to pay?


Key tips from Colin on keeping safe

1.  Self- Awareness: Most kidnap and ransom situations can be avoided with a little self-awareness. Being aware of where you’re going and how others might perceive you can make a big difference. Don’t wear headphones, for example, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your cell phone if you are not in a familiar or secure area.

2.  Be familiar with your surroundings: When traveling, being familiar with your surroundings is critical to your personal security. You should know exactly who is picking you up at the airport and don’t be afraid to ask for formal identification from that person. Identify buildings and police stations that are near the place that you’re staying or working. Identify more than one route back to your hotel or work destination. Use ATMs in busy locations and only in daylight.

3.  Transportation: Don’t show your itinerary to anyone that doesn’t need to know. If you are renting a car, always check in and around the car before you enter the vehicle. Always keep your gas tank half full. Avoid illegal taxis and only use taxis that have been vetted by your organization. Avoid taxis with a passenger already in the front seat and don’t share rides with strangers. Avoid traveling alone if possible. Avoid spontaneous or unscheduled trips to unfamiliar locations. Avoid travel to rural areas. Lock your car or taxi door and keep the windows up all the time. Let others know where you’re going. 

4.  Change your routine: Whether at home or travelling, if you have reasons to believe that you might be followed or intercepted, then you should change your daily travel routine. Use different routes to your home, hotel or place of work. If you drive a rental car, consider jumping in a cab or walking to the destination if it’s not too far away.