March 7th, 2013

Love Poem for Rémi Ochlik, the Late Photojournalist

©Lucas Dolega

©Lucas Dolega

Obituaries of photojournalists killed while covering conflicts reduce their lives to bare facts: where they are from, what stories they covered and for whom, and how they died. Often left out are the details of their personal lives, and the sense of loss to the people they leave behind.

But a moving portrait of Rémi Ochlik, who died on February 22, 2012 while covering the uprising in Syria, recently appeared online in the form of a poem called “Love letter to Rémi Ochlik.” Written by his girlfriend, Emilie Blachère, it conveys something of the person Ochlik was, what inspired him, and how he loved.

Blachère ended up reading the poem aloud for a BBC broadcast. It is a reading that cuts to the heart, and it’s worth sticking with it to the end: Even the BBC announcer who introduced the poem took several seconds to compose himself when Blachère finished reading.

Related:
Photographer Rémi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

February 20th, 2013

Campaign to Prosecute Crimes Against Journalists Set to Launch

Goals of the CampaignAidan Sullivan of Getty Images, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, David Friend of Vanity Fair magazine and several others have announced their plans to launch a social media campaign to push for the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

Called “A Day Without News?,” the campaign will launch on February 22, the anniversary of the deaths of newspaper reporter Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik. Both died when the Syrian military shelled a makeshift media center in Homs.

Organizers of A Day Without News will use Twitter and other social media starting on February 22 to direct people to a web site,  www.adaywithoutnews.com, where they can add their names to a list of supporters of the campaign. The organizers are also asking supporters of the initiative to use their own social media networks to spread the word.

“Over the course of the next 12 months, we will continue to meet with multiple governments who have shown interest and support for the campaign, to push policy and diplomacy to fight against impunity and to partner with educational institutions and NGOs to identify, investigate and ultimately prosecute cases where journalists and media personnel have been targeted and killed,” organizers said in a written statement announcing the campaign.

In addition to Sullivan, Friend, and Addario, others involved in organizing the campaign are photojournalists Tom Stoddart and John Moore, Sir Daniel Bethlehem, QC, founding director of Legal Policy International Limited, and Sara Solfanelli is the HR & Talent Director at MediaCom Worldwide in London.
                –David Walker

March 15th, 2012

Reuters Photographer Recounts Harrowing Trip Into Syria

Reuters has posted photographer Zohra Bensemra’s nail-biting account of her recent five-day trip into Syria. With the help of Syrian activists, she slipped across the Turkish border to document the unrest near Idlib, which has come under attack by government forces in recent days.

“In Libya, miles divided the warring parties. In Syria, enemies are yards apart. The war is being fought from house to house,” Bensemra writes. Recounting civilian deaths in the aftermath of indiscriminate bombing by the military, she says, “From the moment we had crossed the border from Turkey, the terror was palpable in the faces of our guides, of all the villagers.”

Bensemra describes the terror of coming under attack when her guide panicked, and of being hunted by soldiers going house to house after they realized journalists were in the area. Her first-person account is accompanied by photographs of the destruction and death.

“Conditions for our work had been so tough in Syria, that it had been hard to capture many of the striking, bold images that make for the most arresting photography,” she wrote after returning safely to Turkey.

Bensemra’s account coincided with a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists about the dangerous conditions in Syria. Eight journalists have died there since November. CPJ says there is “substantial evidence” that government forces deliberately targeted two local journalists who were killed. And CPJ says that “circumstantial evidence and witness statements point to the possibility that government forces may have taken deliberate, hostile action against the press that led to the deaths of three international journalists, Gilles Jacquier, Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik.”

Meanwhile, two Turkish journalists who were missing in Syria for nearly a week have been captured and handed over to the Syrian secret police, according to news accounts today.

Related:
Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria
Remembering 13 Unsung Heroes of Photojournalism
Photographer William Daniels, Edith Bouvier Safe in Lebanon

March 1st, 2012

Photographer William Daniels, Edith Bouvier Safe in Lebanon

Agence France Presse reports that French photographer William Daniels has managed to escape from Homs, Syria to safety in Lebanon with French reporter Edith Bouvier. The two journalists had been trapped in the besieged city for more than a week.

Bouvier’s leg was badly injured when Syrian troops fired mortars at a makeshift media center in Homs on February 22. Two other journalists –American reporter Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik–were killed in that attack, while British photographer Paul Conroy was also injured.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced at a press conference today: “Edith Bouvier and William Daniels are currently safe on Lebanese territory and will within moments be under the protection of our embassy in Beirut.”

Concern for the safety of Daniels and Bouvier had mounted as the Syrian army moved into Homs today, cutting off water, electricity and other supplies. Reporters Without Borders had earlier today reported that the two had not been heard from since February 23, when they managed to post a video pleading for “any assistance” to get them out.

Photographer Paul Conroy, also injured in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik, was smuggled to safety in Lebanon on Tuesday. Several activists who helped in his escape were killed by the Syrian army.

Related stories:

Injured Photographer Paul Conroy Smuggled out of Syria

Remembering 13 Unsung Heroes of Photojournalism

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

February 29th, 2012

Remembering 13 Unsung Heroes of Photojournalism

News stories of the deaths in Syria of American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik totaled in the thousands last week. That was followed by hundreds of stories yesterday about the rescue of British photographer Paul Conroy, who was injured in the same attack in Homs, Syria that killed Ochlik and Colvin.

Lost in much of the coverage about Conroy’s rescue was the fact that 35 activists helped Conroy reach safety in Lebanon, and 13 of them died during the rescue mission. AP reported those deaths, which occurred when government troops attacked the activists.

Meanwhile, the death last Friday of Anas al-Tarsha, a young Syrian videographer and the fourth journalist to die in Homs within a week, was virtually unreported by the news media, except in Spain. The Committee to Protect Journalists, NPPA, Lightstalkers, and a few others also mentioned his death. The death of the fourth journalist, Syrian video blogger Rami al-Sayed, also received much less coverage last week than the deaths of Ochlik and Colvin.

In other words, Western journalists get into trouble, and it’s big news. Local journalists and fixers and others who get injured or killed along side them are too often relegated to the footnotes.

Of course, hundreds of Syrians have died and thousands more have been injured in Homs, where government troops have been shelling rebels and unarmed civilians alike for three weeks in order to keep the unpopular Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in power.

But a disproportionate amount of Western media attention and outrage seems reserved for its own journalists, and it raises (again) the uncomfortable questions about the risks that Western journalists impose not only on themselves, but the locals who aid them. (The issue arose last spring, when a driver for four New York Times journalists went missing after they were detained at a checkpoint in Libya. It wasn’t until November that The New York Times quietly acknowledged the driver’s death.)

This isn’t to say that the deaths of Colvin, Ochlik or any other journalists are anything but a tragedy, regardless of their nationality. Nor is it to suggest selfishness or callousness on the part of individual journalists for whom drivers, fixers, or anyone else risks life and limb. (Conroy’s wife has told The Western Morning News that the photographer “is obviously very concerned for all the people who lost their lives in helping them out. It’s a real burden on him to know that so many people died.”)

What makes the issue so complicated is that journalists endanger themselves and others for good, defensible reasons. By bearing witness to the savagery committed by al-Assad, journalists are trying to help the Syrian people. And they are making a difference. The images and reports have turned the international community (with the glaring exceptions of China and Russia) against al-Assad, and put pressure on him to allow the Red Cross and Red Crescent in to help evacuate the dead and wounded.

That’s why al-Assad is targeting journalists with intent to kill them, while Syrian citizens are risking their lives to help those same journalists. The Syrians who died in the rescue of Paul Conroy undertook the mission voluntarily. But their deaths shouldn’t be his burden to bear alone, because they might have died for any journalist in Conroy’s predicament. To recognize and honor them for their sacrifice is to elevate and honor not only them, but all who put themselves at risk anywhere in the world to make the work of journalists possible.

Related stories:
CPJ Says Missing New York Times Driver is Dead
Talking About the Deaths We Don’t Talk About

February 28th, 2012

Injured Photographer Paul Conroy Smuggled Out of Syria

British photographer Paul Conroy, who was injured last week in an attack on a makeshift media center in Homs, Syria that killed two other journalists, has been smuggled to safety in Lebanon, the Associated Press reports.

Syrian activists smuggled Conroy out last night. According to The Guardian, the activists came under attack while they were moving Conroy to safety and several of them died.

The British Sunday Times, for which Conroy works as a staff photographer, confirmed that he is “safe and in Lebanon,” The Guardian reported.

Kate Conroy, the photographer’s wife, said in a statement that “we are delighted and overjoyed at the news” that the he is out of Syria.

Conroy suffered leg injuries in the attack last week that killed French photographer Remi Ochlik and American reporter Marie Colvin. Another French journalist, Edith Bouvier, was also injured in the attack. She remains in hiding in Homs, according to press reports.

Like other foreign journalists, those killed and injured last week had entered Syria illegally to report on the popular uprising against the government, which is refusing legal entry to foreign journalists.

February 23rd, 2012

Were Journalists in Homs Targeted for Bombing?

Radio communications between Syrian army officers have shown that the army was ordered to bomb the make-shift press center in the besieged city of Homs where photographer Remi Ochlik and reporter Marie Colvin were working, The Telegraph newspaper reports. The journalists died yesterday when the center was shelled. Photographers Paul Conroy and William Daniels and reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro were also wounded in the bombardment of the press center, Reuters reports.

Journalists used the press center’s electricity and internet access to report on the shelling of civilians in Homs. Colvin’s reports of the ongoing humanitarian crisis had been broadcast on the BBC and CNN. According to The Telegraph, radio orders intercepted by the Lebanese intelligence service show that Syrian army officers were ordered to bomb the press center, and if journalists were killed,  army officers were instructed to make it appear that they died accidentally in battles with “terrorists.”

Jean-Pierre Perrin, a reporter for French newspaper Liberation who had been in Homs last week before leaving for Beirut, tells The Telegraph that he learned, “The Syrian army issued orders to ‘kill any journalist that set foot on Syrian soil’.” The Army may have used journalists’ satellite phone signals to target them.

Syria strictly controls access to foreign press, and most journalists trying to report on the humanitarian crisis in Homs and elsewhere have entered Syria without visas. Following reports of the deaths of Ochlik and Colvin, the Syrian foreign minister announced, “The ministry urges all foreign journalists who entered Syria illegally to report to the nearest immigration office to legalize their presence.” That’s a request foreign press are likely to ignore.

Related Stories

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

In Syria, Photojournalist Bears Witness to Violence

Survival Training for Conflict Zones

February 22nd, 2012

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

© Lucas Dolega

Freelance photographer Remi Ochlik was killed today in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, according to several news organizations. Reporter Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London was killed in the same attack. An aid worker told Reuters the journalists were at a make-shift media center set up by rebels fighting the Syrian army when it was struck by shells. Ochlik and Colvin were trying to flee the building when they were hit by a rocket. The same aid worker also told Reuters two other journalists, including British photographer Peter Conroy, were injured in the attack. Syrian videographer/activist Rami al-Sayed also died of wounds sustained during earlier shelling.

This month, Ochlik, who was represented by the IP3 agency, won first place in the General News/Stories category of the World Press Photo Awards for his work on the civil war in Libya.
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