Sunday, April 24, 2011
Journalists Killed at Misatra, Libya
Libya: In the line of fire
Guy Martin was one of a group of five photojournalists covering fierce street fighting in the Libyan city of Misurata when they were hit by a mortar attack. His colleagues Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed, and Martin himself suffered serious injuries. Jessica Salter hears his story
By Jessica Salter 7:00AM BST 28 May 2011
On April 20 a group of five photographers, including the Oscar-nominated British photojournalist Tim Hetherington and the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Chris Hondros, came under fire in the besieged Libyan city of Misurata. They had spent the morning following rebel units as they fought at close quarters to clear Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from their town. That afternoon they were hit by a mortar attack. Within hours, Hetherington and Hondros had died from their injuries. The British freelance photographer Guy Martin, who was working alongside them, was seriously injured by shrapnel.
Martin, 27, from Cornwall, started covering the Libyan uprising in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, in the east of the country, on March 20 with a friend from university, Ivor Prickett, 27, also a photographer. The uprising had started in the city a month before as a small protest over the arrest of a lawyer representing victims of a prison massacre; two days later it had turned into a city-wide revolution. On the day Martin and Prickett arrived, rebels were celebrating the first air strikes by British and American forces around Tripoli, the capital city still controlled by Gaddafi, in the west.
The pair spent nearly three weeks following eastern rebels fighting along the coastal road between Ajdabiya and Sert, just south of Benghazi. Martin’s photographs show well-dressed rebels in camouflage gear and military boots with belts of bullets strapped across their chests, sometimes cheering and firing their rifles into the air, at other times praying by the side of their armoured vehicles parked on the dusty road.
Martin studied documentary photography at the University of Wales, Newport, in 2003-2006, where he began pursuing long-term projects, one of which, Trading over the Borderline, a photo-essay from the northern Iraq/Turkey border, won the Guardian/Observer Hodge Student Photographer Award. In 2007, 2009 and 2011 he was listed as one of the Magenta Foundation’s emerging photographers.
In 2006 Martin went to Sudan, a year after the civil war ended, taking striking portraits of the Dinka tribespeople, some of the estimated 4.5 million Sudanese refugees, as they made their way back to southern Sudan after 20 years of displacement. Two years later he went to his first conflict zone to cover the war in Georgia.
Martin’s work has a filmic quality to it. He uses his photographs to tell big, interconnected stories, and his trip to Libya was intended to be a chapter in a broader project looking at the Middle Eastern revolutions. He had already spent a month in Egypt, documenting the fall of Hosni Mubarak after his 30-year rule, and planned to move on to Syria, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria. 'As a documentary photographer I made up my mind in Egypt that this was a wider story,’ Martin says now. 'I wanted to cover the revolutions that were happening in other places as best I could because I think this is a story that will define this generation.’
On April 5, Prickett left Benghazi and travelled to Derna, eastern Libya, where he had an assignment. Martin, meanwhile, wanted to get to the centre of the Libyan story – Misurata – where fierce street-by-street fighting gripped Libya’s third-largest city. 'The rebels in Misurata were fighting to the death to protect their town and homes from Gaddafi’s forces,’ he says, 'and I felt that was emblematic of the whole story.’
He had met Hetherington (who last year won an Academy Award nomination for best documentary for the Afghanistan war film Restrepo) and Hondros in Benghazi, along with two other photographers, Michael Christopher Brown, based in New York, and Guillermo Cervera, from Spain, and together the five travelled to Misurata. As the city was sealed off by land, the only way to get there was on a 36-hour boat ride from Benghazi. Martin turned down two boat rides because they looked too dangerous, but took the third, with the other photographers, arriving on April 16. As they stepped off the boat, Martin recalls, some 400 Nigerian migrant workers were queuing to board it to flee the city.
Once there they travelled as a pack, following the rebels as they tried to clear government forces from the rooftops of their city’s buildings. In sharp contrast to the smartly uniformed rebel soldiers in the east, Martin’s pictures show the Misuratan insurgents dressed in hooded jumpers, fighting to protect their homes and neighbourhoods.
On the morning of April 20 they had been photographing heavy fighting between rebel forces and Gaddafi’s snipers, who were shooting from the tops of tall buildings with high-powered rifles down on to Tripoli Street below.
'The government soldiers were so close that they were firing into the stairwell from the opposite window and the rebels were firing back, defending their own small neighbourhoods,’ Martin remembers. By the afternoon, the atmosphere had changed. 'It was kind of quiet and there was no shooting, but it felt weird,’ Cervera says. 'I stopped to take a photo and just when I was going to join the group again I heard a loud noise.’
The group had been hit by a mortar, 'the only thing I heard falling all day,’ Cervera says. Hetherington and Hondros died from their injuries, Brown was hit in the shoulder and Martin, despite wearing a bullet-proof vest, suffered major injuries to his stomach and vascular injuries around his pelvis. He was taken to Misurata’s only functioning hospital, Al Hekma, where he had been photographing only days before. Four days later, when he had been stabilised and when an appropriate ship had been found, he was evacuated to Malta where his mother, Karen Martin, and his girlfriend, Polly Fields, met him.
On May 10 he was able to fly back to Britain. 'I was aware of the dangers before I went,’ Martin says from his bed in the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, near his family home. 'But I felt that the Middle Eastern uprising was an important story that I had to cover. Misurata was at the heart of the Libyan story and it seemed like the kind of warfare that doesn’t happen much any more – a small rebel army with small guns fighting a far superior army. We were there watching as these men fought for control of streets that they had lived in all their lives. It was just unbelievable.’
For more of Guy Martin's work see guy-martin.co.uk
US writer among journalists missing in Libya
SARAH BRUMFIELD, Associated Press
Updated 10:50 p.m., Saturday, June 4, 2011
http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/US-writer-among-journalists-missing-in-Libya-1409572.php - page-1
BALTIMORE (AP) — As the uprisings of the "Arab Spring" began to unfold, writer Matthew VanDyke was at home in Baltimore, editing a book and film about his trips across the Middle East by motorcycle. An email from a friend in Libya convinced VanDyke that dispatches from that country's war would make a perfect epilogue.
Now VanDyke has been missing for nearly three months. His mother, Sharon, said the 31-year-old decided he had to be there when the friend asked VanDyke to tell others of the country's struggle if he was killed during the conflict.
He's one of 17 journalists — mostly Libyans — detained by dictator Moammar Gadhafi's government or believed to be in custody in Libya. At least five others have been killed as rebel forces try to topple Gadhafi's decades-old regime, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
The last time Sharon VanDyke heard her son's voice, it was March 12 as he set off for a daytrip to the coastal oil city of Brega from the rebels' de facto capital Benghazi. He sent GPS coordinates the next day.
His girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, 28, said she wasn't immediately alarmed because VanDyke hadn't sent an SOS signal as he promised he would if he met serious trouble.
"I wasn't panicked," Fischer said. "He knows how to handle himself."
VanDyke dialed her son's number 30 to 40 times a day for the next week, getting the same Arabic recording. Then at 4 a.m. March 22, she got a call from a man with an Arabic accent who hung up. Later that day, she got through to her son's cell, but a stranger who answered said in English he was in Tripoli and she had the wrong number. Sharon asked for her son and his friend from Benghazi, Nouri Fonas.
"He said, 'I hope you find your son,' then the line went dead," she said.
Phone companies confirmed that both calls involved her son's cell. Fonas told her someone spotted her son in a prison in Sirte. That gave her hope, but the secondhand information gives officials little to go on.
VanDyke is one of at least six Americans being held in Libya, and State Department officials are working to secure their release, said agency spokesman Mark Toner.
"You know, they've done nothing. They should be released. And they're simply caught up in this conflict," he said.
U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, held a news conference May 23 to call attention to VanDyke's disappearance.
Two days later , Deputy Libyan Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said he had no information about VanDyke.
Libyan officials generally have not identified Libyan journalists in custody, and have only after days or weeks identified foreigners, Dayem said.
Libya's war is just one part of what has become known as the "Arab Spring." Longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned the next month amid a popular uprising. Uprisings also have occurred in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.
VanDyke was raised in the same two-story townhouse across from a South Baltimore park that four earlier generations of his family have called home. After studying political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he earned a master's degree in security studies with a concentration in the Middle East in 2004 from Georgetown University in Washington.
UMBC professor Thomas Schaller called VanDyke one of his smartest students and said he's sure that, wherever VanDyke is, he's frustrated that he's not getting anything done.
"He has thirst for life and to do things that people told him he can't do or shouldn't do," Schaller said. "I just know he's going to come out on the other end with quite a yarn."
VanDyke met Fischer in 2006 in a hostel in Spain. He was waiting for his motorcycle to arrive so he could ride across north Africa and the Middle East, but he ended up staying in Spain eight months teaching English and fixing the bike, she said. He headed to Iraq in late 2006 with another motorcycle.
"He wanted to write a book and see the world he had studied about," Fischer said. "He wanted to do something more independent."
VanDyke approached The Baltimore Examiner newspaper, which is no longer publishing, in hopes of getting credentials to be embedded with the U.S. military. Editor Frank Keegan saw an opportunity to better inform readers about an important part of the world and get stories about local soldiers overseas. The paper published two of his stories.
"He's a level-headed guy with a lot of talent," he said. "He was not just some adventure-seeking kid who didn't know what he was getting into."
VanDyke traveled through Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Libya with periodic visits home.
While in Baghdad in 2009, VanDyke met photographer Daniel C. Britt, and they decided to make an East-meets-West travelogue film. Last year, they set off on a seven-month motorcycle trip through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, chronicling the people and places they found along the way.
Seeing VanDyke's resolve while they were detained for days north of Baghdad, accused of being al-Qaida and beaten, showed Britt that he had the ability to deal with problems.
"I have faith in his ability to remain calm, and that's helping me remain positive," Britt said. "Other than that, it's a pretty dark scenario."
For now, Sharon VanDyke, a retired elementary school principal, keeps a bag packed in case she hears any word about her son. She is considering a trip to Libya after bringing photos of her son to the Libyan embassy in Turkey last month.
Just as she gathered her son's clips during his previous travels, she has been pulling together news stories about Libya and other materials into binders that are taking over the dining room table.
"When he comes home, he's going to read all of these while Lauren and I go on vacation," she said.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Diaa Hadid in Tripoli, Libya, contributed to this report.