Journalists in South Africa and abroad are putting pressure on the South African government to push for the release of photographer Anton Hammerl who is being held with three other journalists by forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.
This comes after a seeming lack of action on the part of the South African government, which has said very little since the photographer was captured on April 5.
Anso Thom, one of the journalists involved in the group, said the main element of the campaign was to keep phoning the department of international relations and co-operation to put pressure on the department for answers. “Someone is also trying very hard to get hold of the Chairperson of the international relations portfolio committee to pressurise them to discuss Anton at their meeting next week.
“ In the United Kingdom, Bronwyn Friedlander is getting hold of foreign correspondents in Tripoli. We are also lobbying our colleagues covering politics to ask President Zuma, in one of his press briefings, what is being done to free Anton. We are using very contact we have in government to apply pressure and to get information. We also lobbied to get the statements from SANEF, Projourn, Safrea and the DA,” she said.
Peta Krost Maunder, editor of The Media, said journalists had “rallied around” to help keep the photographer’s plight front of mind. “The only reply we’ve had from government is from the international relations spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, that ‘things are moving forward’.
Journalists have expressed concern that the lack of action by government gives credence to the idea that it isn’t taking the capture of a South African citizen – and a media person at that – by Gaddafi loyalists very seriously. President Zuma failed to raise the issue of Hammerl when he met with Gaddafi last week.
His family strongly believe that Hammerl’s case has fallen through the cracks and his wife, Penny Sukhraj, told journalists that the government needs to engage with this matter in a meaningful way, with a sense of urgency. “The South African government is not responding in a satisfactory manner. It is dumbfounding that the US press secretary has called for the release of the four journalists while there has been deafening silence from President Zuma’s office,” she said.
Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert said it was “shocking if President Zuma didn’t mention a South African citizen who is missing”.
“A direct appeal could have made a difference in finding Hammerl. There is no excuse for Zuma to ignore the matter.”
The South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) said in a statement that it “urges President Zuma to reinforce Sanef’s call on Gaddafi by making a personal request to Gaddafi for Hammerl’s release and the other journalists. We are encouraged by news that the department of international co-operation has sought the help of the United States, among others, to help track the whereabouts of Hammerl.”
US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau confirmed on Tuesday that they had received a request for assistance from the South African government.
Hammerl, former picture editor for the Saturday Star, went to Libya on March 28 to cover the crisis, as a freelancer, with a view to filing for various agencies.
On the evening of Monday April 4, Anton skyped his family, telling them that he would be driving with another group of journalists to a rural location that was fairly distant from the Bhengazi base.
They didn’t hear from him again. On Thursday morning, a photographer with whom he’d been travelling from Cairo to Libya, skyped Hammerl’s family and told them that Anton may have been among several journalists believed to have been captured by Gaddafi loyalists.
A few hours later, Human Rights Watch called from Geneva to confirm this.