The founder of humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, has denied he put kidnapped photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed’s life in danger.
Sooliman was responding to accusations made by Mohamed’s mother, Shireen Mohamed, who said he had put her son’s life danger when he prematurely announced his escape from captivity in Syria, despite being asked not to.
Speaking to News24, Sooliman said he had made sure information regarding Mohamed’s escape was true.
“Before we made the press release our contacts on the ground verified that Shiraaz was moved across the border into Turkey and was in the hands of Turkish intelligence.
“Once he was safe, only then did we make the announcement.”
He added that they had met with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation on Wednesday, who also confirmed it was in talks with the Turkish government.
Mohamed had been in captivity in Syria for the past three years and reportedly managed to escape this week.
In a media statement issued on Thursday, Shireen Mohamed alleged Gift of the Givers was not involved in efforts to bring her son back home because “Sooliman failed in his promises to free Shiraaz from his captors and bring him home to me”.
Despite this, she said that, in October, the family asked Sooliman for help in raising ransom money, but he refused.
Regarding Mohamed’s escape, Shireen Mohamed said they had received this information before Sooliman had alerted them.
“In the media, Dr Sooliman spoke about how happy the family was; however, he has had no direct contact with me apart from the WhatsApp message.
“On Sunday morning, the family was shocked to hear news reports about Shiraaz’s “escape” from the media, based on Gift of the Givers’ press statement. We had expressly requested that this information not be shared until we received official confirmation from the authorities,” she said.
But Sooliman told News24 that Gift of the Givers, upon alerting the family to Shiraaz’s escape, had handed the information over to the government, saying: “Since we are not involved in the case we leave it to the government to give you the details.”
He explained the organisation does not get involved in raising ransom money, saying it “gives captors false hope and prolongs the period of captivity”.
“We never made any promises. We tried what is practically possible within reason [to bring Shiraz back].”
While Shireen Mohamed also alleged it was Gift of the Givers who took her son to Syria for a project, Sooliman said it was a volunteer who used to work with the organisation.
“There was a solitary photojournalist who wanted to capture the human suffering inside Syria. This volunteer worked with many people and organisations and had facilitated many individuals and organisations entry into Syria.
“In January 2017, Gift of the Givers informed him that his volunteer services were no longer required,” Sooliman said.