Hammerl, a 41-year-old photographer of South African and Austrian descent, was shot and killed by government forces near Brega in eastern Libya on April 5. Three journalists traveling with him were detained by Libyan authorities until May18 and announced Hammerl’s death after they were released.
Hammerl, a married father of three, traveled to easternLibya to cover the conflict as a freelancer. He was working on the front lines near Brega with three other foreign journalists–Clare Gillis, James Foley, and Manuel Varela (also known as Manu Brabo)–when they came under fire from government forces. Hammerl was shot in the abdomen, and Gillis, Foley, and Brabo were captured.
Gillis told The Atlantic magazine, "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. Jimtried to talk to him–‘Are you OK?’–and he didn’t answer anymore."
For more than six weeks, the government alternately claimed that Hammerl was safe in custody or that he was not in government hands. Sources reported that the Libyan government had been in possession of Hammerl’s passport, and thus was aware of his identity and his fate.
Under international humanitarian law applicable in the armed conflict in Libya, parties to a conflict have obligations regarding the missing and dead. Libya was obliged to take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of fighting and provide family members with any information it had. Hammerl’s family had repeatedly sought information about his whereabouts.
The Libyan government held Gillis, Foley, and Brabo until May 18, when they were released in Tripoli, the capital. They traveled to Tunisia the following day, where they informed Hammerl’s family of his death. International efforts were ultimately successful in gaining the release of the detained journalists, but the South African government appeared to have played no part. When South African President Jacob Zuma visited Tripoli on April 10 and 11, he failed to bring up Hammerl’s case, according to media reports.
The South African government reacted to the news of Hammerl’s death by accusing the Libyan authorities of misinformation. "We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information," said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, SouthAfrica’s international relations and cooperation minister.
Hammerl also held Austrian citizenship, and the Austrian government similarly criticized the Qaddafi government. "We are very disappointed at the Libyan side that they had not conveyed the news," said OttoDitz, Austria’s ambassador to South Africa.