Durban - The family of missing South African photojournalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, have broken their silence, expressing concerns over claims made by a Cape Town-based NGO that it was negotiating his release.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Mohamed’s sister, Sumaya, 36, said the family was concerned about reports that surfaced last Friday, where an organisation called Truth Collective South Africa, told the media that it was working with Mohamed’s abductors, to have him returned home safely and unharmed.
Her 38-year-old brother was kidnapped in Syria by a group of men near Darkush en-route to Turkey in January.
"We have never heard of or from TCSA or what their plan of action is. The first time we heard about them was in the news last week. It [the news] came as a huge shock to us," she said.
Last week, TCSA’s Bakar al Maharmeh told Jacaranda FM that he had gone to Syria for 12 days in January in an effort to facilitate Mohamed’s release.
He further claimed that he had made contact with a mediator between the rebel groups and the Syrian government and that it had been established that Mohamed was alive and being held by Jabhat al-Nusra in Idlib. He further claimed that he was being assisted by the South African government and the Syrian government to facilitate Mohamed’s release.
'We did not consent to any such deal'
A swap deal has reportedly been made and Jabhat al-Nusra was offering to trade Mohamed for the release of four of their members held by the Syrian government, according to reports.
Last Friday, the Department of International Relations and the Gift of the Givers, which has been assisting the family since Mohamed went missing, distanced themselves from the reports.
Sumaya Mohamed said the family was not informed about the deal and did not consent to any prisoner swap deal. What concerned them further was that there was no proof of life.
"They say they have proof of life, but it is one individual who has apparently seen a video clip. There is no proof to substantiate what he is saying.
“We were not informed of the deal nor did we consent to any such deal. Prisoner swaps are highly dangerous and risky and could further endanger his life. What if something goes wrong? There is a risk he could lose his life."
According to what the family had read, Mohamed said, the organisation was not registered.
"The information available does not show that they have the necessary experience to deal with such a matter."
She pleaded with South Africans to continue to pray for her brother’s safe return.
Gift of the Givers are in constant contact with the family and are assisting in trying to find Mohamed.
"We have faith in their abilities. We thank everyone for their support and ask that everyone please continue to pray for our brother’s safe and swift return," she said.
The Citizen reported on Thursday that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also denied claims by TCSA.
Red Cross spokesperson Iolanda Jaquemet told the paper that she had checked with her colleagues, and that the ICRC in Syria was not aware of this case.
The paper asked Al Maharmeh for evidence about its community projects and he reportedly referenced the reporter to TCSA’s Facebook page, "which, while carrying news of aid to Syria by other – mainly Russian – organisations, showed no actual work by the Truth Collective".