31 August 2017

South Sudan: Family Mourns Death of Reporter Who Chose to 'Bear Witness'

Photo: facebook
Reporter Christopher Allen

Freelance journalist Christopher Allen believed it was important to not look away from the worst of humanity. By the age of 26, he had lived up to his belief, covering conflict in Ukraine and South Sudan and sharing powerful stories with people around the world.

"He chose to bear witness; he chose to look unflinchingly at what was painful and to find the humanity within it," his mother, Joyce Krajian, told VOA.

On August 26, Allen was killed in the southern border town of Kaya, South Sudan, in a clash between government and rebel groups. The Committee to Protect Journalists said he had been embedded with rebel forces for two weeks, citing a rebel spokesman.

He was killed by a bullet wound to the head, although the details of his death are still unclear. A spokesman for South Sudan's Army said that anyone, including a journalist, who enters the country with rebels will be targeted for death by their forces. CPJ has forcefully rejected any notion that Allen was helping the rebels and noted that international law affords journalists the same protection as civilians in conflict zones.

"Chris was actually a photographer. He was holding a camera, not an AK-47. So, he was not a combatant," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal.

Allen is the tenth journalist to be killed in South Sudan since 2012, according to the U.N. CPJ has called for a full investigation into his death.

'I want to see history in the making'

Allen grew up in suburban Philadelphia and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He later earned a master's degree in European history at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

During his studies in Europe, Allen was riveted by images of revolution in Ukraine and decided to travel there to cover the story.

"In the middle of that program, when the rest of his cohort was going off to the Greek islands, Chris chose to go to Ukraine," his mother said. "It was just post-Maidan Square [the site of protests in Kyiv], and he said 'I want to see history in the making. I don't want to read about history.'"

Allen's work appeared in The Telegraph newspaper, BBC, Mashable and other outlets. In 2014, he was one of the first reporters to arrive at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over Ukraine, killing 298 people.

Later, as part of a documentary, he shared his thoughts on the carnage he saw that day in a wheat field.

"Being in Eastern Ukraine, seeing all this death, you're conscious of how quickly a life can be taken," he told the interviewer in 2014. "Whether it's the person walking across the playground during [a] shelling or whether it's the people who fell 10,000 meters in a plane, you quickly become conscious, being here, being in the middle of this conflict, that life is a really fragile thing."

A life cut short

Allen's family is left grieving the son they say could have chosen a comfortable existence in academia, but instead was driven to tell stories of people seeking freedom in forgotten corners of the world.

"He found it very refreshing when people would stand up for what they consider their human rights and the right of their country," said his father, John Allen. "And he was interested in what makes these folks tick who were prepared to put themselves out there to sacrifice, to even make the ultimate sacrifice, which most of us don't dare to do."

Above all, they feel an incredible sense of loss at a life cut short.

"He was such a big-hearted, big-spirited guy," his mother said. "It's really hard to imagine the world without him. Our world. We have gotten a lot of response from people who knew him and said that, truly, this is a loss for the world."

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