Libya killed Hammerl, then lied
WAR DEATH: Family, SA govt outraged by ‘intolerable cruelty’
“IT is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton’s fate all along and chose to cover it up,” the photographer Anton Hammerl’s family said in a statement after learning that he died in the Libyan desert on April 5.
“Words are simply not enough to describe the unbelievable trauma the Hammerl family is going through,” the statement read.
“From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton.”
The statement said the family were told late on Thursday night, by two journalists who had been with Hammerl at the time, that the group were attacked by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in an “extremely remote” place in the Libyan desert. Hammerl was shot. “According to eyewitnesses, his injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention.”
International Relations Minister Maite NkoanaMashabane told a press briefing yesterday that the Libyan government lied to South Africa about Hammerl.
“We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information yesterday [on Thursday],” 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 Brabo, were with Hammerl when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shot at them in the desert near Brega on April 5.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the journalists did not mention Hammerl’s death earlier as they feared for their safety while in custody in Libya.
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 Editors’ Forum (Sanef) chairperson 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 yesterday 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.” said Makhanya.
Independent Democrats parliamentary leader Joe Mcgluwa said it was an “outrage” that Libyan officials had given the Hammerl family false assurance of his safety.
The fact that NkoanaMashabane “verified Hammerl’s status” a week ago, and then postponed a meeting with editors, left the party “deeply disturbed”.
Hammerl went to Libya to cover the war as a freelancer. This is one of his photographs of rebels near the Brega frontline. It was taken on April 3, just two days before he was killed. It was taken from his website: Anton Hammerl Photoreportage.