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Swedish Journalist Detained in Syria and Released After Brutal Week Behind Bars

Joakim Medin, a freelance journalist and VICE News contributor, was detained by the Assad regime and held in solitary confinement in a cell that resembled a “torture chamber.”

by Meredith Hoffman
Feb 22 2015, 9:55pm

Photo via Facebook/Joakim Medin

A Swedish freelance journalist and VICE News contributor was detained last week by the Syrian government and held in solitary confinement for days until he was released Saturday.

The journalist, Joakim Medin, told VICE News he was arrested February 15 with his interpreter, Sabri Omar, in the northwestern city of Qamishli and taken to a prison cell that resembled a "torture chamber."

"I was walking downtown with my translator on one of the busiest streets and we passed a government checkpoint," Medin, 30, told VICE News. "As soon as I said I was a foreign journalist they arrested us and took us to a prison controlled by the regime."

The Syrian officials told Medin he was in prison for entering the country without a visa, but Medin explained that it was impossible to get a visa to enter the country since the regime does not control the borders. Syria is in the throes of a civil war that began in 2011.

Video shows cocaine allegedly found at home of Islamic State leader. Read more here. 

"They blindfolded me and interrogated me. They wanted to know why I came there without a visa, and my relationship to the Turkish and Israeli states," Medin recalled.

Medin reported regularly last year from the Syrian border town of Kobane, the scene of months of fighting between the Islamic State and Kurdish forces. He reported earlier this year from Kobane for VICE News on a large bag of cocaine that was allegedly found in the home of an Islamic State leader.

Medin said he was isolated during his detention in a dirty 3-by-6-foot cell with "bloody handprints" and desperate messages scribbled on the walls. The space was infested with cockroaches, ants, and lice, he recalled.

"I've been eaten alive by lice," he said.

His captors fed him only bread and tap water, save for "lucky" nights when he also received potatoes. The contaminated tap water made him sick, he said, but there was no bathroom in his cell.

"I started vomiting and having diarrhea," he said. "I managed to convince them to give me a bucket."

Beatings, torture, and imprisonment: It's not easy being a journalist in Iran. Read more here. 

In a Facebook post Sunday announcing his release, Medin called his stint in Syrian captivity "the most unpleasant thing I've been through," but acknowledged that "it could have lasted much longer and ended much worse." 

In the post, Medin said that after four days he and Omar were flown to Damascus, where he was "interrogated blindfolded by the Syrian intelligence, who soon accused me of being in the country illegally as a spy for Israel and the Mossad," the Israeli intelligence agency.

When Medin and his translator were abruptly released Saturday, Syrian forces explained nothing, but Medin told VICE News that Kurdish forces had pressured the regime into freeing him and his colleague.

"Kurdish forces captured a high-ranking officer of the Syrian army and said they'd attack the airport if the regime didn't release us," Medin said.

Medin is now back in Qamishli. He said he plans to continue reporting on Syria despite the jarring experience in captivity.

"The developments happening here are too important not to cover," he said.

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman