Journalists and photographers demonstrated in Johannesburg for the release of news photographer Anton Hammerl, who is being held captive in Libya. Photo: Independent Newspapers
Journalists and photographers demonstrated in Johannesburg for the release of news photographer Anton Hammerl, who is being held captive in Libya. Photo: Independent Newspapers

Minister: Libya lied about Hammerl

By Time of article published May 20, 2011

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The Libyan government lied about photographer Anton Hammerl to SA, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Friday.

“We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information yesterday (Wednesday),” she told reporters in Pretoria.

“Mr Hammerl's death is a very unfortunate act and the government and the people of South Africa condemn the perpetrators of these actions.”

She expressed disappointment that news of his death came not from Libyan authorities, but from the journalists who were with him when he was killed on April 5.

Austria's ambassador to South Africa Otto Ditz said: “We are very disappointed at the Libyan side that they had not conveyed the news. Now we hope they will be co-operative and show us where he is buried so we can bring him to his family for proper burial.”

He carried dual SA-Austrian citizenship.

Nkoana-Mashabane and Ditz expressed condolences to Hammerl's family for their “tragic loss”. They would continue getting consular services.

American journalists Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley, and Spanish photographer Manuel Brabu, were with Hammerl when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shot at them in the desert near Brega on April 5. Hammerl was hit in the stomach. The other three were taken captive.

Nkoana-Mashabane said the journalists did not mention Hammerl's death earlier as they feared for their safety.

She thanked Austrian authorities for their co-operation.

Ditz said they had received information from Hammerl's brother that he had gone missing and had been working with South African authorities since.

“We could not have done any better. We followed up on all possible channels we could.”

There had been no hint from Libyan authorities that Hammerl was dead. Instead they received empty promises, he said.

Ditz described Hammerl as a “great photographer who knew the risks”.

SA National Editor's Forum (Sanef) chairman Mondli Makhanya said: “We would have appreciated more honesty from the Libyan government.”

He hoped Hammerl's body would be found.

The forum was “devastated and angry” at the turn of events. Sanef had a meeting with the department of international relations early on Friday morning, a meeting which was initially aimed at finding ways to locate the photojournalist and get him back home.

“But now we've met under grim and sad circumstances. Now we're talking about Hammerl in the past tense.”

Makhanya called Hammerl a brave journalist who told stories both happy and sad.

“We are paying tribute to someone who was just a fantastic guy, a person we all loved very much and shared great moments with.”

South Africa had so far only confirmed Hammerl's death through the journalists and not via United Nations sources. - Sapa

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