Supporters from around the world have embraced the yellow ribbon campaign in support of missing photojournalist, Anton Hammerl.
Within 24 hours of the launch of the campaign, people from across the world have come on board in countries including South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and across Europe.
In London, trees and gardens lining the street in which Anton and his wife Penny live were fluttering with yellow ribbons as neighbours responded almost immediately to the call.
“Within a few hours of getting the word out to neighbours, when we walked outside we could see yellow ribbons dotting the street. It was such an emotional moment, feeling all the support from them,” says Freda Hammerl, Anton’s mother.
Pro Gadaffi forces captured Hammerl, together with three other journalists, two from the USA and one from Spain, on April 5 near Brega. While the other three have been allowed calls home and visitors from the outside world, to date Hammerl has not been heard from. All the family has is his captors’ assurance that he is alive.
Adds Freda Hammerl, “As I tied the yellow ribbon on the gatepost outside the family home yesterday I kept on thinking please bring my son home.”
On Facebook the yellow ribbon challenge was taken up immediately with supporters of the Free Anton Hammerl Campaign changing their Facebook status photos to a yellow ribbon. In Johannesburg and Cape Town and around South Africa, dogs, babies, lapels, homes and cars got the Free Anton ‘yellow treatment’.
A Facebooker from Montreal wrote, “Thinking of you brother….and hoping to hear soon……..we’re thinking of you here in Toronto”.
In South Africa, a Facebooker posted good wishes for Anton’s mother: “Dear Mrs Hammerl, I pray for you all and hope that Anton is returned to you safe and sound very soon. Be strong and keep faith. I’m going to see where I can get a yellow ribbon to put up this side in SA!”.
Also in South Africa, another supporter said, “This is a very moving idea – may the entire planet be covered in yellow ribbons.”
And in Cannes, Alexandra Smit-Stachowski wrote: “Just cos u asked for it – sporting the ribbon. Will be in Cannes tomorrow for the film festival – have two self-made Anton badges, the Helge Free Anton T-shirt and will silently campaign for him. Every bit helps, right? (note to the current admins – perhaps create a folder for ordinary people to upload their Anton ribbon pix? I feel quite shy posting this on the main page:).”
And Athelé Oosterbroek wrote: “Dear Mrs Hammerl. I think of Anton and all his family every day – his poster is on my front door and my car’s window. I’m keeping the faith that he will be returned to you safely, soon. With love from all the Oosterbroeks.”
The family launched the campaign on Saturday, May 14, marking 40 days since the last time Anton had made contact with the outside world.
Freda Hammerl adds, “When people ask about the yellow ribbons tell them my son has been missing in Libya for many, many days. Tell them we are asking governments to negotiate with the Libyans for one call to us from Anton, a consular visit to him and for him to come home.
“The pain is intolerable of not knowing if my son is safe. If he is physically okay. If he is being treated humanely.
“Let the world know about Anton please, let the world start asking loud and clear. Give us proof Anton is okay.”
Today, a high delegation from the South African National Editors’ Forum and the Free Anton Hammerl Campaign will meet with the South African minister for International Relations, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to discuss concerns around the lack of progress regarding Hammerl’s case.
Hammerl was picture editor at the Saturday Star, Johannesburg and is also an award winning photojournalist.
His plight has moved not only the journalistic fraternity, his friends and family but also ordinary citizens who have sent letters of support to the family and who are as equally shocked that a South African citizen could be held in another African country without basic human rights, such as a phone call home.
The yellow ribbon campaign will run until Hammerl gets home.