Syria regime frees Canadian traveller after eight-month detention

Syria regime frees Canadian traveller after eight-month detention
'I didn't know if anyone would know I was alive': Kristian Lee Baxter made an emotional statement after being released from Syrian jail where he was held on unspecified charges.
3 min read
09 August, 2019
Kristian Lee Baxter held a press conference in Lebanon upon his release [Getty]
A Canadian man has been freed after being held for eight months by the Damascus authorities in war-torn Syria, the former detainee and Lebanon's security chief said Friday.

British Columbia native Kristian Lee Baxter on Friday appeared at a televised press conference in Lebanon's capital Beirut after his release mediated by the Lebanese authorities.

"I thought I would be there forever," he said, after breaking down in tears.

"Honestly, I didn't know if anyone would know I was alive," he said, his grey hair trimmed short and wearing a grey t-shirt.

Canadian media reported in early January that there had been no signs of Baxter, then 44, since December 1, 2018.

Baxter thanked his embassy in Beirut and Lebanese authorities for helping secure his release.

Lebanese security chief Abbas Ibrahim said Baxter had been detained since last year "for reasons linked to breaking Syrian laws", without elaborating.

"He is on his way back to Canada," he said, thanking the Syrian authorities for what he described as their swift response on the issue.

Read more: Caught on camera: Don't mistake Assad's war crimes for 'tragedy'

Canada's ambassador to Beirut, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, said she was unable to provide any more details.

"Due to privacy laws in Canada, I'm not able to comment on specifics of the case," she said.

Described as an adventure traveller by his loved ones, Baxter had made no contact since arriving at a Syrian village where his brother-in-law was born.

He had travelled there despite the brutal war raging in Syria since 2011.

Missing American

A Canadian official told AFP earlier this year that "a Canadian citizen has been detained in Syria", without providing any further details, due to reasons of confidentiality.

He said "the security situation across Syria significantly restrains the Canadian government's ability to provide consular assistance".

Since the Syrian war broke out, Ottawa has urged Canadians to avoid travelling to the country. 

The conflict has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions more since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Read more: US journalist's work on display, 6 years after Syria abduction

Canada cut diplomatic ties with Damascus after the conflict began.

Last month, Lebanon said it had facilitated the release of a 30-year-old American after two months of detention.

Sam Goodwin had last been seen on May 25 in the city of Qamishli in northeast Syria after crossing from Turkey as part of his bid to visit every country in the world, The Washington Post reported.

A number of foreigners remain missing in Syria.

One of those missing is American journalist Austin Tice, who was kidnapped in Syria seven years ago this month by unidentified armed men after he had been reporting south of Damascus.

His kidnapping was never claimed by any organisation.

In December, Tice's father said he believed the Syrian government was best placed to help bring the journalist home.