We have just put up a gallery of the last images that South African photographer, Anton Hammerl took before disappearing in Libya. He filed the photos from near Benghazi in Libya, loading them to his Photoshelter account. After he went missing his wife, Penny Sukhraj, assisted by photographer Christine Nesbitt, approached us to represent the pictures and assist in drawing attention to his plight.
View the gallery of Anton’s pictures
Anton is a former picture editor for The Saturday Star (Johannesburg, South Africa) and 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, Hammerl skyped his family, 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 morning (7 April) the family learned from Human Rights Watch in Geneva that colleagues on the ground confirmed Hammerl was believed to have been captured by Gaddafi loyalists, with three other journalists – American journalists Clare Gillis and James Foley, and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo.
Penny Sukhraj, Hammerl’s wife, called up the South African consular officials in London, to tell them about what had happened. They said they would pass the info 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 heard from Human Rights Watch who informed them on 8 April that the Libyan authorities confirmed they had four journalists – the four captured were thought to include Hammerl, the two Americans and a Spaniard. According to Human Rights Watch the Libyan authorities said they would be taken to Tripoli and released.
A senior consul official in South Africa then said they were aware of the situation and would do everything they could to secure a release – but that things were difficult on the ground since there were no diplomatic staff in the Tripoli office. He said that staff from the Turkish embassy, still in situ, would facilitate negotiations for a release as they were acting on behalf of the US government.
By Saturday (9 April) the 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 Hammerl’s’s detention with the Libyan government. The suggestion was that a release would probably happen as a show of goodwill by Gaddafi.
On Tuesday, 12 April, the family was informed that the matter had not been raised by President Zuma’s delegation.
On Wednesday, 13 April, the consul official reported that the matter was being dealt with at the highest level. He also told the family that South African consular staff had moved back to their office in Tripoli and were making every effort toward securing access to Hammerl.
The family understands that the South African government is working closely with the US, Spanish and Austrian governments (since Hammerl also holds Austrian citizenship on account of his parentage) to secure Hammerl’s and the other journalists’ release.
The other three journalists have each been allowed a call to their families by Saturday (23 April) but Hammerl’s family are yet to hear from him. Clare Gillis has made a second call to her family.
Hammerl’s family were told to expect a call from him, but there is still no word.
There has been some speculation that Hammerl is being kept separately from the other journalists, and may be held by another group within the Libyan government, different to that which is holding Gillis, Foley and Brabo. It has also been suggested that his status as a detainee might be different to that of the others.
The United Nations has added the plight of foreign journalists in detention in Libya to its list of priorities in current investigations into human rights abuses – the UN’s three-man task force looking into this arrived in Libya on 27 April 2011.
As at May 5, 2011, there is no further news on Hammerl.
Sign the petition to release Anton Hammerl