With no real progress in the search for South African photo-journalist Shiraaz Mohamed in Syria, Gift of the Givers says investigations into his disappearance have been intensified. The 38 year old journalist from Lenasia was abducted on 10 January on the way to the Turkish border and no group has claimed responsibility or placed demands for his return.
Following a nationwide ceasefire on Saturday 28 January between various Syrian factions, the humanitarian agency set up a task team to find the reporter. GOTG founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said various role-players have visited the Ar Rahma Hospital or engaged with them to assist in the search. The message is the same – “there was no reason for anyone to take Shiraaz”.
“We have received word that there will be rounding up of suspects, arrests, investigations and raids into different areas in an attempt to find Shiraaz. This process has already commenced,” said Sooliman.
The organisation further notes that it has been informed of investigations and raids that is currently being conducted and that prisons will be included in the searched, this in an effort to locate Mohamed.
“The people of Syria have come out very strongly against the captors saying clearly ‘not in our name’. A big protest and media event is being planned for tomorrow by the people,” Sooliman affirmed.
“The speculation from all engaged is that whoever took Shiraaz made a mistake but to correct that mistake in the light of the civilian outrage is going to be very difficult. The captors are going to face severe repercussions unless they can release Shiraaz quietly without being identified.”
In order to ensure anonymity of the reported abductors and by extension, the safe release of Mohamed, GoTG has affixed large posters on the walls of its al-Rahma Hospital.”
“The message is conciliatory, in essence asking for Shiraaz to be released in a safe place and in return we will look the other way taking no further action.”
Mohamed approached Gift of the Givers to facilitate his entry into Syria. His aim was to document the suffering of the Syrian people by making distributing his images to the various international agencies that he does freelance work for.
As a courtesy to Gift of the Givers, Mohamed was also meant to document the work of the NGO inside Syria.
Mohamed was apparently taken to an unknown location after being stopped on the road near the Turkish border by armed men. He was retrieved from the car at gunpoint after questioning the other members in his delegation about his identity.
They were then blindfolded and driven to a different location before being told that Mohamed would be questioned due to an unknown “misunderstanding”, and would return within two days. He has not been seen since.
His family remains hopeful of his return and have asked the Muslim community to pray for his safety.
“Shiraaz’s passion for his pictures and for people led him into a distinguished career as an international photographer of note … Last year, he travelled to 12 countries. He flew to Nepal to cover the earthquakes on a solo trip, knowing that he may not return, but did it anyway for the love of photography,” said the family in a statement released in January.