Czech diplomats negotiate release of Polish national held in Syria

Michaela Froňková, Leszek Panek, Eva Filipi, Hynek Kmoníček, photo: archive of Hynek Kmoníček

Czech diplomats have managed to negotiate the release of a Polish national jailed in Syria since 2015. According to a statement from the Office of the President the man was released on humanitarian grounds and is reported to be in “satisfactory” physical condition.

Michaela Froňková,  Leszek Panek,  Eva Filipi,  Hynek Kmoníček,  photo: archive of Hynek Kmoníček
Leszek Panek, 54, went missing shortly after entering Syria from Lebanon in December 2015. Efforts to trace him proved fruitless and it was only last year that news emerged of his whereabouts. He was in a Syrian prison, having been captured by Syrian forces and charged with “activities linked to terrorism” for which he was likely to face a death sentence. Polish media featured reports which described the man as unbalanced, saying he had caused disturbances in Poland travelling around the country to announce a pending nuclear apocalypse. Polish efforts to negotiate his release failed and last year they turned to the Czech Republic – the only EU country which operates an embassy in Syria for help.

Following months of negotiations the Czech Republic was able to announce the man’s release on Monday. He was handed over to the Czech ambassador in Syria, Eva Filipi, and then transported to the Polish Embassy in Lebanon. He was reported to be in “satisfactory” physical condition, and was using crutches after having been shot in the leg during his arrest.

While the Czech Foreign Ministry said it would not be releasing a statement or details of the successful diplomatic mission, the Czech president’s chief foreign policy adviser Hynek Kmoníček, who travelled to Lebanon for the hand-over, had high praise for Czech diplomats in Syria, telling the news site that the credit lay fully with the Czech Ambassador to Syria Eva Filipi and the respect she has built up in the country. “Without the empathy and energy of Ambassador Filipi in Syria and Ambassador Fronková in Lebanon we would have been powerless,” Mr. Kmoníček said.

The Czech Embassy in Syria which represents all EU member states in the country and is also Protective Power for the United States has established good working relations with all parties in the Syrian conflict and is the sole distributer of EU humanitarian aid in the country. On a visit to Prague last year Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad had high praise for the Czech ambassador’s work.

Aleppo,  Syria,  photo: CTK
"You have an excellent ambassador, who, irrespective of the very dangerous situation, very difficult situation in Syria, remained with the Syrian people. She is carrying responsibility not only for the Czech Republic but also for some European countries and also for the United States. All our discussions with the United States were carried through her. She visited some American prisoners who were caught for entering Syria illegally. She went to the prison, met these people, took books and medicine and cigarettes, reported on their health and some of them were released because of Czech assistance. If it were not for the Czech representation in Syria such a thing would never happen.”

Eva Filipi, who last year received a high state distinction for her work in diplomatic service, is a highly respected professional in her field. Last year Parliament passed an amendment to the civil service law allowing ambassadors over the age of 70 to continue in their posts, since the conditions originally set down would have meant her leaving office.