Exiled Syrian Journalist Found In Belgian Hospital

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(AP) An exiled Syrian journalist reported missing after failing to appear at a ceremony honoring his press freedom activities was found Monday in a hospital outside Brussels, police said.

Nizar Nayyouf was at a hospital in Anderlecht, a suburb of the capital, police said. Hospital staff phoned police with the news.

Police now are investigating claims Nayyouf was abducted from outside his Bruges hotel.

Nayyouf was reported missing by his brother after not showing for Sunday’s ceremony at the World Association of Newspapers annual meeting honoring him for his press freedom activities, for which he served nine years in jail.

Jean-Marie Berkvens of the Bruges prosecutor’s office said Nayyouf was last seen early Sunday morning at his hotel. His travel documents and clothes were still in the hotel room, police said.

Police said they were investigating Nayyouf’s claim that he was abducted from outside his hotel, blindfolded, and taken away in a car by several kidnappers. Nayyouf told police he later was freed near a forest, after which he made his way to the road and sought help from passing cars.

He later was brought to a hospital in Anderlecht.

Nayyouf was attending the annual conference of WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, in Bruges 50 miles northwest of Brussels.

In a statement, WAN said it was “deeply concerned about Mr. Nayouf’s safety.” It said he had received numerous threats against his life.

A founding member of the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Freedom and Human Rights in Syria, Nayyouf was arrested in 1992 during a government crackdown on the country’s nascent human rights movement.

Nayyouf, who was left partially paralyzed after his years in prison, was freed after an international campaign by human rights and press freedom groups.

Last fall, Syrian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nayyouf accusing him of “publishing false material and lies while abroad.”

WAN awarded Nayyouf its annual press freedom prize, the Golden Pen of Freedom, in 2000 when he was still in jail in Syria. He was to be formally given the award on Sunday.

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