18 April 2017

South Africa: Still No Word On Shiraaz Mohamed On His 39th Birthday

There are no updates on the whereabouts of South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed since his kidnapping three months ago, his former wife Shirley Govender says.

"This is Shiraaz's first birthday in captivity. He turns 39 today. It is the saddest thing, especially for his family and his friends, those of us who love him. So keep him in your prayers," Govender told News24 on Tuesday.

She feared he could suffer the same fate as Pierre Korkie. The Bloemfontein teacher was taken hostage by al-Qaeda in Yemen. The militants killed him when US special forces tried to rescue him and another hostage in December 2014.

She described Mohamed as an impatient man and wondered about his state of mind.

"Shiraaz is the most impatient person I know. I cannot even begin to imagine what he's going through. Does he even remember that it's his birthday today?

"That is so worrying for me. Can he even remember anything, because it's traumatic. You're in a strange country. There's people talking over you in a foreign tongue. It's scary," she said.

A group of men kidnapped Mohamed near Darkush, Syria, while he was en route to Turkey on January 10. He had been capturing scenes of the Syrian civil war.

Gift of the Givers

Thirteen days after his kidnapping, the Gift of the Givers foundation said it had established through its networks that he was still alive.

"From all our interactions with the different people, including a high-profile Syrian journalist, it appears that their information is credible," the disaster relief organisation's founder, Imtiaz Sooliman said at the time.

A task team was established to deal with the matter. Anas al Hamati, a hostage negotiator from Yemen who is Arab and understands the culture and language, was part of that team.

Sooliman said armed men had taken Mohamed to an unknown location after stopping their convoy on Aljamiliye Road, near the Al Hilal Hospital.

Mohamed and two organisation members were en route to the Turkish border. Sooliman said the men had told the Gift of the Givers staff that there had been "some misunderstanding", that they needed to question Mohamed, and would bring him back two days later.

The men identified themselves as representing "all groups inside Syria".

The Gift of the Givers officials and Mohamed were blindfolded and driven around for an hour. At some point, the two staff members were let out of the car. Mohamed had not been heard from since.

Pious Muslim

Govender said the fact that the holy month of Ramadan would start at the end of May made things worse for his family.

"It's family time, it's special time and Shiraaz is quite a pious Muslim. It's going to be terribly difficult for us as a family, as his loved ones, to have to deal with all of that. So I ask everybody to please keep him in their prayers."

She described him as a family man who was very loving and romantic. The past week had been difficult. It was hard not to get angry that there was no information.

"I'm really angry because we are not getting the full story. There's too much of cover-ups, too many allegation and those things need to be looked at."

Her former husband had gone to the war-torn country to do something bold and good, and South Africans needed to remember that.

"He went to highlight the plight of Syrian women and children. So it's not a bad thing that he was trying to do."

She said the blast which killed more than 100 people and displaced thousands in Syria last week had scared her even more. She said she felt scared on his behalf.

"I can feel his fear, last week was particularly bad. I could feel his fear."

Dirco, Gift of the Givers must do more

The department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) and Gift of the Givers needed to do more to help him, she said.

"Even Gift of the Givers must be held accountable. It's been three months and there's been almost a complete silence on the part of Gift of the Givers. So we need to ask probing questions as the media, as the country, as South Africans."

Gift of the Givers was not immediately available for comment. Dirco spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said there was no new information.

"The man is still in captivity and we don't know who his captors are, what motive they had for taking him. We have not received any demands from anyone in exchange for his release."

Kgwete said the South African embassy in Damascus was working with the Syrian government to resolve the matter. No progress had been made so far.

"We have to rely mainly on the government in the country concerned to assist, and at the moment we are in touch with the Syrian government. But you will understand, it is a government which is at war with various groupings that want to overthrow it, so the situation is very complicated," Kgwete said.

Source: News24

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