Austrian-South African Photographer Believed Dead

Anton Hammerl Was Expected to be Released with his Colleagues in Tripoli

By Mina Nacheva

A woman with a lit candle stands near posters of South African freelance photographer Anton Hammerl on World Media Freedom Day May 3, 2011, REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

An Austrian-South African freelance photographer is believed dead after being shot and abandoned by forces of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the journalist’s family said in a statement on 20 May, according to Reuters. Anton Hammerl went missing over a month ago while covering fighting near the city of Brega in eastern Libya.

The Libyan authorities, who had continuously assured Hammerl’s family that he was alive and held captive in Tripoli, originally said that he would be released together with three other detained journalists on 18 May in Tripoli, AFP wrote.

South Africa's foreign ministry, which said earlier this month that it had proof Hammerl was alive, explained that the Libyan government had misled it about the photographer.

"We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information," International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The two U.S. reporters, James Foley and Clare Gillis, who were freed on 18 May, said in an interview for the GlobalPost that they witnessed their colleague being shot, but were captured moments later. Both of them together with Spanish photographer Manuel Brabo, who was detained with them, did not report what had actually happened until their release, because they feared for their safety.

Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger confirmed in a statement dated 20 May that Libya had failed to provide any helpful information despite numerous requests.

“The news from Libya is not encouraging...,” Spindelegger said. “The brutal actions by Qaddafi’s soldiers is a shocking example of the dangers that especially journalists face in conflict situations. Press freedom is particularly important in exactly such situations.”

South African President Jacob Zuma has also been criticised for not discussing the issue of Hammerl at a meeting with Gaddafi in Tripoli last month, Reuters added.

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