Journalist Amanda Lindhout, Captive 15 Months In Somalia, Speaks Out ; Retired British Couple Still Captive There

wklindhout0222_499101gm-aAmanda Lindhout, a Canadian journalist held captive in Somalia for 15 months, spoke out this weekend for the first time — at a dinner held in Calgary in her honor by the Somali community.

Last November, Mr. Brennan and Ms. Lindhout were freed for a ransom that has been reported at anywhere from $500,000 to $1-million.

Ms. Lindhout has not spoken publicly about her ordeal beyond a statement before Christmas that thanked those who helped her.

The journalist revealed little more on Sunday about the more than 15 months she spent in captivity. Ms. Lindhout paid tribute to a Somali woman whom she said risked her life in an attempt to free her.

“Her courage is a stunning example of one human being’s instinct to protect another. She did not know me, yet she called me her sister,” she said.

“And while she was ultimately not able to save me, she did touch my life in a profound way that I will never forget.”

Ms. Lindhout remained composed throughout her speech, but wept as she watched a video put together by the Somali community thanking her for her bravery.

Several other speakers said that most of those who live in the country are without a voice and that atrocities will continue unless people follow Ms. Lindhout’s path in trying to tell their stories.

“Though Amanda has gone through an unbearable situation, she has gathered the strength to be here with us tonight,” said Mudhir Mohamed. “So in our eyes she’s a hero.”

For retired British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, there’s still no hope of release — they and their private sailboat were kidnapped off the Somali coast in October 2009.

Reports the Daily Mail:

‘We can’t wait more than this because it is becoming too expensive to hold these people. By March, they have to decide or we will be done with them.’…[said one of the kidnappers recently.]…

While sailing in the Indian Ocean close to the Seychelles, their 38ft yacht Lynn Rival was boarded by pirates brandishing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers on October 23.

They were taken to the gang’s mother ship, a huge container carrier  –  itself hijacked  –  called Kota Wajar, and then to their lair, the city of Haradheere, 1,000 miles away on the Horn of Africa.

The Chandlers had managed to send out a distress signal, which was picked up by a nearby vessel of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service carrying at least ten Royal Marine commandos, plus an armed helicopter.

British Somalis are fed up and ashamed, reports the BBC:

The couple’s plight has prompted a series of displays of solidarity from the UK Somali community, whose numbers were estimated at 101,000 in 2008 but which some observers believe could number as many as 250,000.

Hundreds [recently attended] a public meeting on Sunday in Camden, north London, called by community leaders in support of the couple.

Somalis in Bristol have already launched their own campaign, when a large crowd gathered to witness the unfurling of a banner in support of the couple outside the Al Baseera mosque in the city’s St Jude’s area.

Kayse Maxamed, 39, editor of the Bristol-based Somali Voice newspaper, has spoken out about the plight of the Chandlers on the radio in the US and Africa.

He believes Somalis in the UK owe a debt of gratitude to the country which has given so many of them shelter from war and violence.

“The Somali community is very angry,” he says. “We feel we have to do something.

Should Only 'Real Journalists' Report Dangerous Foreign Stories? Define 'Journalist'

A general view of the abandoned conflict zone ...
A conflict zone in Sri Lanka, Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

I’ve blogged here several times about Amanda Lindhout, a young woman from Alberta who was kidnapped and tortured over a period of 15 months in Somalia while reporting a story there, recently released.

The New York Times’ Canadian stringer, Ian Austen, took a look at Lindhout’s slim resume and credentials this week and raised the question — should anyone with ambition and a plane ticket call themselves a journalist and head for the nearest hot spot?

Like the word “art” or “antique”, “journalist” is a word with no clear, precise or official definition. It’s also a handy title stretched mighty thin, claimed because they can by armies of people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing, are stringing for teeny, tiny news outlets paying them pennies and who place themselves in harm’s way and expect their government, or families, or news outlets (who don’t think enough of them to actually put them on staff and thereby take some responsibility for them) to come rescue them.

We’ve all met them while we’re out on assignment, shrugged off their hopeless newbie-ness and moved on with our own work. But it’s one thing in Brooklyn, quite another in Baghdad.

This question of credentialing and clips is a fair question, for a number of reasons. Even the most seasoned, savvy and prepared of journalists — and photographers and cameramen — can face very real danger when reporting overseas, as The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl and The New York Times’ David Rhode found out. Those backed by the money, power and arguable political clout of a major media organization can afford, and pay thousands of dollars to, their fixers, interpreters, bodyguards, people who know the local territory, customs and can usually read the signs of danger. The rest are on their own, to their own detriment, as Lindhout discovered.

Anyone who’s spent most or all of their life in a nation not at war or scraping through the aftermath of a natural disaster really can’t imagine the terror or the insanity of what happens when even basic infrastructure just doesn’t work anymore.

I caught the last commercial flight out of Caracas’ airport in December 1999 after a landslide devastated the area around that city. It’s difficult to convey the horror I saw and felt — a six-lane highway that had become a lake of brown water; entire hillsides scraped bare of their homes, and residents. I made the United flight back to New York with eight minutes to spare, it had been so challenging to even get to the airport by one bus and two taxis due to the flooding.

The friend I’d traveled with, both of us as couriers (i.e. not holding our own tickets) was trapped for days and had to be rescued, with many locals, by the Venezuelan navy. She suffered PTSD for months as a result.
And that was a vacation that went very badly wrong — not something we deliberately sought out.

Someone like Lindhout, who hungered for adventure and clips like hundreds of others have done before her, had no journalism training, few clips, little prep and no such institutional backup. It’s scary, and difficult, enough with that backup.

My partner — who is letting me tell his story with great reluctance, as so many colleagues have faced this, or worse — was sent for six weeks at Christmas to Bosnia to photograph it for the Times. I tell his story not because he wants credit, (he hates this sort of attention), but because it details some of what can happen with the best of prep and training.

He twice found himself in serious danger. He had never done an overseas war assignment, but knew enough, and, perhaps most crucially, consulted colleagues with this sort of experience, to take energy bars, water, warm clothes, sleeping bag and a Kevlar vest issued by the Times — and an enormous metal carabiner, a climber’s clip he picked up at the checkout counter on impulse. One colleague told him to stop shaving, which he did, so he would blend in better with the locals. He could not shower or bathe for two weeks. One night he slept, in his sleeping bag, inside a shipping container, this in a Balkan winter.

He also knew the Times could, and would, do whatever was necessary to help. It was still a deeply harrowing experience.

That carabiner — now our family talisman of good luck — saved his life and that of the Times correspondent and their female intepreter, caught at dusk on a crowded, narrow road, their rental car stuck in the snow. A UNHCR truck came by and towed them to safety, clipping their car to a cable to their truck thanks to that carabiner. He spent many weeks, like many others there, bitterly cold and often hungry. No one there, in most situations, cared about his credentials or experience. In those places and times, when even food or clean water or a warm, dry, safe bed are hard to find, it’s every man, and woman, for himself.

Lindhout’s family had begged for help from the Canadian government for months, in vain.

Many young journalists make their names, and their careers, doing good work in dangerous places. Every serious news outlet still hungers for live, detailed, color-filled reporting from someone they trust. News isn’t just what a faceless blogger in-country tells us it is. It still, for many editors and producers, relies on the bravery of prepared, trained, savvy journalists they know, have vetted and trust — whether they are freelance or staff, 22 or 62 — to go get it.

But what of the young, ambitious and ill-prepared? Should Lindhout have even gone to Somalia?

Canadian Woman Journalist Freed After 15 Months Of Somali Captivity

Qableh Ruins of Sanaag, Somalia
Somalia; her cell had no windows....Image via Wikipedia

Here’s something to be thankful for — after 15 months of imprisonment and torture. Canadian journalism Amanda Lindhout was freed yesterday in Somalia and is finally headed home to Alberta.  The 28-year-old was taken captive while heading to a refugee camp to conduct interviews. She was freed only after a ransom of $700,000 U.S. was paid to her captors. She was held separately, but for the same length of time, with Nigel Brennan, a Australian photographer who was working with her.

Visions of running through Vancouver’s idyllic Stanley Park sustained her through in her darkest moments, she said.