Many of my colleagues go abroad on a regular basis, something I did myself when younger, but unlike many others I have never really found myself in a position where I have been on my own in a foreign country, worrying for my life.
But there are photojournalists who do this on a regular basis.
Back in October 2006, the then London based Italian Freelance Photographer Kash, went missing in Afghanistan. The story quickly unfolded and he was abducted at gunpoint, along with his guide/interpreter, by persons not clearly identified.
Held, often in isolation, often blindfolded and restrained one can only imagine such a situation. Eventually, after much campaigning here in the UK, and in Italy, and after approached had been made by friendly parties in Afghanistan and Pakistan Kash was eventually released, physically unharmed. Rumours that the Italian government made a donation to some cause or other remain unproven, and that there was a large amount of British army activity in Helmund Province at the time of his release is now part of history. For most of us the how, and why of his abduction and eventual release remain theory, it is probable that even Kash himself does not know the full story.
That another photographer that I had been in contact with should be found dead in a ditch came as a great shock to me personally. Although this terrible discovery was made a year ago, I still find myself mulling over the futility of such a terrible crime. Although I never met Trent Keegan, we had corresponded regularly over professional matters, indeed I had only just responded to a plea for help in seeking a journalist to work with him on a story that was rapidly unfolding around the New Zealander. Whether the story itself had anything to with his eventual death on 28th May 2008, one can only guess, but that his death was due to robbery may seem to many a little far fetched as his wallet with 3,848 shillings (about $62) remained with his body. All that seemed to have been taken was his mobile phone and laptop computer.
What is the most worrying thing from my point of view is that less than two weeks before his eventual murder, (I don’t see how Trent’s death can be seen as anything else as he was severely beaten on the back of his head and left for dead in a ditch a few yards from a main thoroughfare. Ironically, very close to a government building and in theory at least within the coverage of a CCTV camera mounted on a fence in the immediate area), Trent had e-mailed me, his message starting with the words,
“Keep this safe mate. In case something happens."
This was followed by.
"Police are here, possibly to arrest me."
Although he did send me another message a little while later to let me know he was (on that occasion) OK,
"Much abruptness from ourselves and they backed off a fair amount.
Meeting with the district commissioner today and vented at him...
police hanging about though."
He also then regaled a story that can do nothing but make the reader very concerned about things that were happening around Trent Keegan.
This is the blog entry I wrote a year ago,
PDN did a very good analysis of the Trent Keegan murder on June 27th 2008
And another good follow up in July when it was revealed that the Nairobi Police had recovered both his laptop and some of his camera gear stolen at the time of the attack.
Considering five suspects were held, and then two taken to court, (not the actual murderer we are told but simply two lookouts), but no convictions, that some 15 items stolen from his body were recovered, the observer reading about this case might conclude that, there is far more to this story than the robbery gone wrong that we keep getting told by the Kenyan Police.
What is going on in Kenya, that a photojournalist of excellent reputation can (we are told) be killed in a robbery gone wrong, yet no one steals his money?
That fifteen items of equipment stolen in the advised robbery gone wrong, can be recovered, five people can be held, accused of the murder, two even taken to court and tried for his murder, yet we end up with no convictions?
Trent writes and tells me that he is concerned about the subject matter of a story he is working on and that the company concerned is hounding him, yet the company concerned (based in the US) turns around and state in one statement that they have never heard of Trent, and in another that they were merely concerned for his well being? Do those in based in the US really know what is going on in Tanzania in the middle of Africa?
The one thing that we do know without any question of a doubt, is that a well liked, non-aggressive New Zealand Photojournalist, had his life taken away from him well before his time, in an unforgivably violent act.
We still do not know the true motives involved, although there are a great number of pointers, none of which suggest that this was a random act, but rather one of more sinister motives.
Member of: The National Union of Journalists