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Credit: ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images

A clear voice, silenced

Khaled al-Zintani was unable to look the other way. He had no option but to direct his attention at what was going on around him. While the global public had long since diverted its gaze from Libya, his homeland, the photo journalist remained there, worked from there, tirelessly supplying media organisations with images from Benghazi, his home city.

There are many dire places in the world, and Libya is most certainly one of them, virtually a synonym for “failed state”. The interest of western media in the war in the country once ruled by Muammar Gaddafi didn’t last. It endured only as the protest and resistance against the ruler was perceived as part of the Arab Spring,

and interest waned as the conflict descended ever more into a brutal and unfathomable civil war in which a number of Islamic militia, including IS, play a role. Now we are discovering just how bad the situation is in the North African country, partly through the reports of refugees making their way from Libya to Europe, but also through the work of intrepid journalists like Khaled al-Zintani. On 24 June 2016 he died in Benghazi, shot by a sniper.

Right from the beginning, Khaled al-Zintani was on the ground experiencing the conflicts and developments in Libya, first as a demonstrator and eventually as a photo journalist.

He reported from Benghazi and Zintan, a city in the northwest of the country, which was a stronghold for the rebels. Al-Zintani documented the bombardment of Gaddafi’s troops, from which residents had taken refuge in the surrounding caves. Most recently he managed the office of “Zintan TV” in Benghazi, did freelance work for “Sky News Arabia TV” and filmed PR videos for the Libyan National Army.

In his work, al-Zintani was clearly on the side of the rebels, but also acknowledged their errors and wrongdoings, for example during the recapture of Zintan when they sometimes dealt brutally with members of the Meshaashiya tribe. Some Meshaashiya reported that they had to flee from the rebels in 2011, who accused them of supporting Gaddafi and destroyed their homes. Even here though, al-Zintani did not fundamentally discard his clear position: “I do not wish to excuse them”, he said once, “but these sorts of things happen in every war.”

The situation of the Meshaashiya shows how complicated and messy the situation in Libya is. Gaddafi had resettled the tribe’s members during the 1970s as part of his “divide and rule” strategy, the aim of which was to prevent conflicts between rival family groups and secure his dominance in this way. The experiences of the injustice suffered under Gaddafi’s decades-long rule ultimately erupted in the civil war.

For his final deployment, al-Zintani was embedded with the Saiqa special unit of the Libyan National Army as a “media representative”. Under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, last year the Saiqa engaged in hefty battles with Islamic militias, including those close to IS. Al-Zintani intended to follow one such deployment in Benghazi.

Omar Altwati, a producer with whom al-Zintani collaborated in the weeks before his death, stated that al-Zintani had supplied photos of battles in the southern part of Benghazi just days before he was shot. The pair were still in contact the day before al-Zintani’s death, with al-Zintani assuring his colleague he would report on “all the battles in the area”. The next day he didn’t pick up his mobile. He was no longer able to. A military spokesperson confirmed the journalist’s death to Altwati. Even though none of the Islamic militias involved in the battles in Benghazi claimed responsibility for al-Zintani’s death, we can assume that the shots came from the militiamen’s ranks.

One might claim that Khaled al-Zintani was not an independent reporter, but the truth is that the global public is reliant on reports from colleagues like him to find out anything about what is going on in theatres of war like Benghazi. Most recently, the two protagonists in Libya, Khalifa Haftar in the east and Fayez al-Sarraj in the west, have spoken once again and announced parliamentary elections – but the country’s future remains uncertain.

One voice that would have reported this to us was silenced on 24 June 2016.

written by Milan Jaeger; Weserkurier

  • Khaled al-Zintani

    The Libyan Khaled Al Zintani was born and killed in the harbor city Benghazi. He mainly worked as freelance photo journalist. He was accompanying the Saiqa Special forces at an attack against the Islamic militia in Benghazi when he was killed by a sniper in the Gwesha quarter in the South of the city. Al Zintani was one of the few journalists who constantly risked his life by providing pictures about the longstanding civil war in Lybia.