Photographer Anton Hammerl. Photo: Independent Newspapers
Photographer Anton Hammerl. Photo: Independent Newspapers

Hammerl cover-up ‘intolerably cruel’

By Time of article published May 20, 2011

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South African photographer Anton Hammerl was shot in the Libyan desert and is believed to have died from his injuries, the Hammerl family said on Friday.

A statement released by the Hammerl family on Facebook said that they had been informed on Thursday night that Hammerl had been shot on April 5.

“On 5 April 2011 Anton was shot by (Muammar) Gaddafi's forces in an extremely remote location in the Libyan desert. According to eyewitnesses, his injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention.

“Words are simply not enough to describe the unbelievable trauma the Hammerl family is going through,” the statement said.

“From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton. It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton's fate all along and chose to cover it up.”

Hammerl, who used to work for the Star newspaper, was initially reported to have been captured by militia loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near the town of Brega on April 5.

Hammerl's wife Penny Sukraj was told by American journalists Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley of the shooting.

The pair had been released from Libyan custody and spoke to her from Tunisia on Thursday night.

They were with Hammerl when they came under fire in an extremely remote location in the Libyan desert near the town of Brega.

Hammerl was apparently shot in the stomach according to family friend Bronwyn Friedlander.

Friedlander said it was believed his injuries were such that there was no hope of survival without immediate medical attention.

She said the assurances of Hammerl's capture in Libya apparently given to the South African and Austrian governments were “incredibly cruel”.

GlobalPost.com reported that Hammerl had gone with Gillis, Foley and Spanish Photographer Manu Brabo with the intention of spending a night with the rebels at a camp east of Brega.

Foley told GlobalPost.com the four had exited their car and that before they could get back into their car the rebels had done an about-turn and fled approaching Gaddafi forces, leaving them behind.

He said that Hammerl was closest to the fighting and that bullets were hitting the ground around the four. He said that when he asked Hammerl if he was okay, “No” was the only answer he received.

He said that after the third barrage of shots Hammerls cries had ceased.

The journalists surrendered to the rebels and the three were tied up and thrown into the back of a bakkie.

Foley saw Hammerl's limp body lying in the sand. He said Hammerl was shot in the abdomen and was bleeding severely.

While in captivity, Foley said the three journalists wrestled with how to communicate the news of Hammerl's death to his family.

“We knew collectively that if we spoke about Hammerl's death while we were detained, then we would be in greater danger ourselves. But now that we're free, it's our moral imperative to tell the story of this great journalist and father,” he was quoted as saying.

National Press Club chairman Yusuf Abramjee said the news of Hammerl's death was a shock.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with Anton's family, friends and colleagues. We are told he was shot on April 5. Why did it take so long to confirm his death?

“Anton will always be remembered as an outstanding photographer and a good human being. The news is devastating.

“To the Hammerl family, please accept the condolences of the entire media fraternity.”

Last week the Star quoted International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane as saying that the South African government had proof that he was alive.

However on Wednesday International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela denied the report saying: “That issue of the minister's quote was not captured correctly.”

Monyela could not be immediately reached on Friday for comment following news of Hammerl's death.

Last month, well known photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed after coming under fire in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata. - Sapa

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