When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

Jaron Gilinsky
13 min readMay 3, 2014

On September 16th, 2013, journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were traveling in Northern Syria along with four rebel soldiers they had hired for protection. At a checkpoint near the town of Tal-Abyad, armed, bearded men took their passports and whisked the group of six to a makeshift detention facility. Two weeks later, the kidnappers released the four rebel soldiers, but not Javier and Ricardo. The soldiers told concerned colleagues and relatives that the journalists were in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, or ISIS, a particularly radical Islamist militia once affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

In the eyes of the kidnappers and much of the world, Javier and Ricardo appear to be quite similar. Both are talented, experienced Spanish journalists. Both had reported from Syria before and were familiar with the risks of reporting from the country. There is one major difference, however, between the two men. Javier is a staff reporter. Ricardo, on the other hand, is a freelancer. It’s a distinction that shouldn’t really matter, but it does.

Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, freelance video journalist and photographer (left) and Javier Espinosa, staff writer, El Mundo (right) Photograph: Joan Borras/AP

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