Over 60 journalists gathered at Hyde Park in Johannesburg, chanting “Find him, Free Him, Send Him Home!” as part of a protest aimed at drawing attention to the plight of missing photographer, Anton Hammerl, being held by loyalist Gaddafi forces in Libya. Hammerl’s father attended the protest.
The rest of his family, who live in London, sent a message to be read out at the demonstration, described by some as the “biggest gathering of media since the struggle days”.
“Dear friends, your participation in this campaign to encourage the South African government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the authorities in Libya, who are believed to be holding Anton, Clare Gillis, James Foley and Manu Brabo, is greatly appreciated.
“Thanks to your persistence, hard work and commitment, we received heartening news this week of our government’s intervention in this matter at the highest level, for which we are deeply grateful. But the fight for Anton and the other journalists’ release is not yet over – we will not rest until Anton, Clare, James and Manu are home with their families.
“We are humbled by your efforts and your enthusiasm. Thank you so very much from the bottom of our hearts.
“We know Anton will be overwhelmed by your outpouring of love and support.”
Yesterday, the Office of the President finally spoke up about Hammerl’s disappearance, 16 days after he was taken. In a statement, the Presidency said that Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, is “keeping President Jacob Zuma briefed on the attempts made by the South African mission in Libya to locate Mr Anton Hammerl, the journalist who went missing in that country recently”.
It continued: “President Zuma instructed the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to use the necessary diplomatic channels to obtain information regarding his whereabouts.
“At the time of the disappearance of Mr Hammerl alongside two journalists from the USA and one from Spain, it had been difficult to obtain information following the evacuation of all South Africans in Libya, including all staff at the South African Embassy.
“The South African Mission in Tripoli has now partially opened and doing everything possible to locate Mr Hammerl.
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation continues to provide consular assistance to the family of Hammerl and other South Africans in distress.”
On Wednesday, protestors gathered outside Parliament in Cape Town. Journalist Anso Thom handed over a memorandum to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.
“Our South African friend, comrade, colleague, husband, son, brother and father Anton Hammerl, former picture editor for The Saturday Star, went to Libya on 28 March, to cover the crisis, as a freelancer, with a view to filing for various agencies.
“On the evening of Monday 4 April, Anton skyped his family in London, informing them that he would be driving with another group of journalists to a rural location that was fairly distant from the Benghazi base.
“They didn’t hear from him again. On Thursday (7 April) morning a photographer who he had collaborated with to travel from Cairo to Libya informed Anton’s family that he may have been among some journalists believed to have been captured by loyalists to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. The captured colleagues included James Folley, Clare Gillis and Manu Brabo, who are also still being held.
“We condemn the actions by people who capture and incarcerate journalists tasked with reporting on and recording conflict situations.
“A few hours later, Human Rights Watch called from Geneva to confirm this.
“The family contacted the South African consular officials in London, to tell them about what had happened. They said they would pass the information onto officials in South Africa – who would deal with this, since their Tripoli staff were no longer in situ on account of the conflict.
“The family did not hear from any officials until the next day.
“By this time, the family had heard from Human Rights Watch who informed them that the Libyan authorities confirmed they had four journalists (the four captured were thought to include Anton, two Americans and a Spaniard).
“According to Human Rights Watch the Libyan authorities said they would be taken to Tripoli and released. This has turned out to be false.
“We condemn the fact that for too long the family had to rely on the goodwill and assistance of other countries and organisations.
“By Saturday (9 April) a senior DIRCO official informed the family of President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Libya – and it was intimated at this point that there might be an opportunity to raise the matter of Anton’s detention with the Libyan government. The suggestion was that a release would probably happen as a show of goodwill by Gaddafi.
“At the same time, the US publications that the two American journalists were attached to, the Atlantic and Global Post, were also trying to arrange logistics for the pickup of the journalists, should their release go ahead, as indicated by the Libyan authorities. Other cases of this nature (recent case of the New York Times journalists) appeared to have been resolved without issue, within the space of about five to six days.
“Following President Zuma’s visit an official informed the family that the matter had not been raised by President Zuma’s delegation.
“We are disappointed that President Zuma has on more than one occasion failed to personally raise Anton’s plight with Gaddafi or given us a reason for his decision to not do so.
“The family were informed that the Government had no knowledge whatsoever of Anton’s whereabouts, or his wellbeing and said that the consul officials would now formally be requesting consular access to Anton (5 days later since the family first informed them).
“We understand the complexities and that the consular staff had been evacuated, however, we are disappointed that it took them this long to take any meaningful or urgent action.
“There have been no tangible developments since and Anton’s whereabouts or his wellbeing is still unknown.
“Our demands to President Zuma, DIRCO and our Government are:
- That the efforts to establish the whereabouts and wellbeing of Anton and his fellow photojournalists in Libya be increased and maintained until they are found and safely returned to their families.
- That DIRCO as a matter of urgency establish the whereabouts of Anton and secure consular access.
- That President Zuma, DIRCO and the South African government use its influence and access to the Libyan Government to secure the release of Anton and his fellow photojournalists (James Folley, Clare Gillis and Manu Brabo) as a matter of urgency and return them to their family.
- We appreciate the recent urgency with which the Minister assures us that Anton’s case is being handled, however we call on her to maintain this pressure and to keep us updated on progress.
- We call on President Zuma and our Government to use its influence and add its voice to the call for the release of journalists detained all over the world, simply for doing their jobs.”
- Social Justice Coalition
- Professional Journalists Association of SA
- Treatment Action Campaign
- The Daily Maverick
- Media Monitoring Africa
- Free African Media