A South African freelance photographer missing in Libya since April is believed dead after being shot in the stomach and abandoned in the desert by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, said his family.
Anton Hammerl, 41, who also had Austrian nationality and lived in London, was hit in the stomach after coming under fire on April 5, family friend Bronwyn Friedlander said.
Two American journalists and a Spanish photographer who were with Hammerl were taken captive by forces loyal to the Libyan leader. They could not report what had happened until their release in Tripoli on Thursday.
According to the released journalists, Hammerl was left behind bleeding while they were taken away by Gaddafi forces, Friedlander said.
“His injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention,” she said.
The American reporters, James Foley and Clare Gillis, spoke by phone with Hammerl’s wife Penny Sukhraj in London late on Thursday.
The attack took place on the outskirts of the eastern oil town of Brega when the journalists were fired on by pro-Gaddafi troops in two Libyan military trucks, Foley and Gillis said in an interview published on the GlobalPost website.
South African President Jacob Zuma has been criticised for not bringing up the issue of Hammerl with Gaddafi on a visit to Tripoli last month.
South Africa’s foreign ministry, which said this month it had proof Hammerl was still alive, said on Friday the Libyan government had lied about the photographer.
“We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information…,” International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters on Friday.
Hammerl, who had three young children, had lived in Britain for five years. His family had hoped he was still alive in captivity after he went missing in April, and had run a campaign for his release.
“From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton,” his family said in a statement.
“It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton’s fate all along and chose to cover it up.”
Last month two photojournalists — Oscar-nominated filmmaker Tim Hetherington and Getty photographer Chris Hondros — were killed after coming under fire in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata.