The SA National Editors' Forum (SANEF
) and the Professional Journalists' Association of South Africa (ProJourn
) have called on the Libyan government to release photographer Anton Hammerl and other journalists captured by Libyan forces during the current unrest. Both parties expressed dismay that President Zuma failed to raise the issue of these detentions with Gaddafi, when he headed an African Union delegation this week to Libya.
SANEF, with other media NGOs throughout the world, believes that the photographer and other journalists were carrying out legitimate duties in reporting what was taking place in Libya and should not have been prevented by government forces from carrying out a legitimate activity that is approved by the UN, of which Libya is a member. Hammerl is the former picture editor for The Saturday Star
and went to Libya on 28 March 2011, to cover the crisis as a freelancer, with a view to filing for various agencies.
South Africa subscribes to UN protocols on freedom of the media and has a constitution that enshrines the values of a free media. SANEF believes it is incumbent on the South African government to apply these protocols in its negotiations with Gaddafi.
ProJourn is perturbed by news from the family that very little was done by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to secure Hammerl's release for several days and that they have had to rely on the goodwill of US and UK authorities to lobby on his behalf.
ProJourn understands that only five days after his capture did South African authorities request consular access to Hammerl. According to the latest information ProJourn has available, this has not yet been granted. It is also concerned that Hammerl may be in danger, making this case urgent.
A report was received that journalists matching the descriptions of those captured with Hammerl - James Foley and Clare Gillis of the USA, and Manu Brabo of Spain - had been seen in a detention centre in Tripoli, but Hammerl did not appear to be among them. The family strongly feel that Hammerl's case has fallen through the cracks.
"South Africans working outside the borders of the country need to be assured that should they find themselves in volatile situations, which could lead to their incarceration, they can rest assured that their government will leave no stone unturned to secure their release and safe return to their families," says ProJourn spokesperson Samantha Perry.
ProJourn also wishes to make the point that as freelancers working in dangerous conditions, Hammerl, Foley, Gillis and Brabo do not have the backing of large news corporations to ensure their safety. For this, they rely on their many friends around the world - and on the diplomatic intervention of their governments.