Reporters Without Borders is saddened to learn that Anton Hammerl, a well-known photographer with South African and Austrian dual nationality who had been missing in Libya for more than six weeks, was killed shortly after disappearing in the east of the country on 4 April. It had been assumed that Hammerl was alive and was being held by pro-Gaddafi forces.
“The civil war in Libya has been particularly deadly for photographers,” the press freedom organization said. “It is time this stopped. Reporters have been paying too high a price in this war. The authorities in Tripoli and those in Benghazi should give their troops clear directives to respect the work of journalists.”
In a message posted on Facebook today, Hammerl’s family said: “On 5 April 2011, Anton was shot by 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.”
Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by the news, especially as the Libyan government had indicated on several occasions that he was alive. Austria’s foreign ministry had also said on 25 April that he was alive and that it was negotiating his release with the authorities in Tripoli.
As a result of Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim’s statements on 17 May, it was assumed that Hammerl was about to be released along with American reporter Clare Morgana Gillis, British reporter James Foley and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo. But the next day Ibrahim said there had been a mix-up and that Hammerl “has not been located.”
It was these three journalists who, on being released on 18 May, reported that Hammerl sustained a gunshot injury that was almost certainly fatal during an attack by government forces on the oil town of Brega on 5 April. It was at the end of this attack that the three other journalists were captured. Foley, who works for GlobalPost, said they had all been reporting from the rebel side on the outskirts of Brega.
Aged 41, married and the father of two children (one aged just three months), Hammerl was based in the United Kingdom. Reporters Without Borders offers its condolences to his family and colleagues, and calls on the Libyan authorities to explain their repeated lies since 5 April.
Hammerl’s death brings to five the number of journalists killed in Libya since the start of the war in mid-February. Tim Hetherington, a British photojournalist working for Vanity Fair, and Chris Hondros, a US photojournalist working for Getty Images, were killed by a mortar round in Misrata on 20 April. Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a Qatari cameraman working for Al-Jazeera, was killed in an ambush near Benghazi on 12 March. Mohamed “Mo” Al-Nabous, a Libyan journalist and blogger who was one of the founders of the Libyan TV station Al-Hurra, was killed by a sniper in Benghazi on 19 March.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Lotfi Ghars, a journalist with Tunisian and Canadian dual nationality working for the Iranian TV station Al-Alam, was released on the evening of 18 March after being held for two months.