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Government silent about fifth journalist killed; four journalists released

UK-based South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl, 41, was shot dead by Libyan troops on 5 April near Brega in eastern Libya. He had been working with three other foreign journalists when they were fired upon by pro-Gaddafi forces. The other journalists were captured and later released; and only after crossing the border into Tunisia did they speak of Hammerl's death, fearing reprisal from the Libyan government if they mentioned it earlier in calls home. IFEX members are demanding the government release Hammerl's body and investigate the role of armed forces in his death.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) are also accusing the Libyan government of withholding information about Hammerl's death. For more than six weeks the government said either that Hammerl was not in government custody or that he was in safe custody. Foreign governments were repeatedly assured he was alive, report the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"Libyan government forces killed Anton Hammerl six weeks ago and then lied about what happened," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. "They had his passport and they knew he was dead."

Intentionally withholding or offering false information about the fate of an individual in state custody, including someone who has died, could amount to an enforced disappearance under international human rights law, says CPJ.

US journalists Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley and Spanish photographer Manuel Varela (also known as Manuel Brabo) were held until 18 May and then released in Tripoli, the capital. Detained British journalist Nigel Chandler was also released at the same time. International efforts managed to obtain their release - but when South African President Jacob Zuma visited Tripoli on 10-11 April, he did not discuss Hammerl's case.

Hammerl, Gillis, Foley and Brabo had gone to report on fighting from the front line on 5 April. "We thought we were in the crossfire. But eventually, we realised they were shooting at us. You could see and hear the bullets hitting the ground near us," Foley told GlobalPost.

Gillis described the capture to "The Atlantic": "They took away our stuff, tied us up, threw us in the back of the truck. And we all looked down at Anton. I saw him not moving and in a pool of blood. Jim tried to talk to him - 'Are you OK?' - and he didn't answer anymore."

According to CPJ's research, five journalists have been killed in the Libyan conflict, at least 50 have been detained, and at least 15 Libyan and foreign journalists are still being held by authorities.

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