Baker Atyani describes ‘mental torture’ of kidnap
Al Arabiya correspondent held captive in Philippines for 18 months says media should not become ‘tool of government’
Baker Atyani, the Al Arabiya correspondent held captive in the Philippines for 18 months, today described the daily “mental torture” of his ordeal, while calling on governments around the world to stop using media for propaganda purposes.
The veteran TV broadcaster was released on Dec. 4 after being abducted by armed militants who were part of Abu Sayyaf Islamist group.
In an interview with Al Arabiya News, Atyani described the psychological abuse dealt by his kidnappers during his captivity.
“It was a torture - a mental torture that I was facing every day,” he said. “[There was] a lot of pressure coming from the kidnappers, to kill… they fired more than one time near to my legs in order to scare me.”
Atyani said in a separate interview that his abductors did not physically abuse him, but said the psychological harm was significant. He said he tried to escape more than once, but was placed in a small hut in solitary confinement for three months.
While he described every day as “a challenge”, Atyani said he did not lose hope. “The evening would bring hope to me, the darkness would bring hope to me that one day I might make it out and go back to my loved ones.”
Atyani, a Jordanian journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden months before the Sept. 11 attacks, had travelled to Manila on June 5 to shoot two documentary films, including one on the living conditions of Muslims in the south of the Philippines.
After his kidnap he was held in the Sulu Islands in the Philippine province of Mindanao. His freedom came after several calls by Islamic scholars and MBC Group, of which the Al Arabiya News Channel is part.
A ransom for Atyani’s release had been demanded but not paid, he said.
“From day one, MBC Group was there, they tried their best to secure my release,” he said. “There was no ransom paid. A group from within helped me to find my way out, to escape from my captivity.”
Atyani suffered health problems due to his long period in captivity, having lost a third of his body weight while being held in the jungles of the strife-torn island of Jolo. But he says his health is now improving.
“Health is good... I am really happy,” he said. “After this experience I am stronger. And this experience made me more in love with my profession too – journalism.”
According to media-rights group Reporters Without Borders, 67 journalists have been killed this year while 198 have been imprisoned.
Atyani said his own experience cannot be compared with many others as his abductors were “just a gang - an organized crime group, kind of a mafia”.
But he said that, regarding other cases of abuses against journalists, governments need to be more aware of the value the media has within society.
“If our governments would understand that media is there to help in building true democracy, and the media's role is as important as the government itself, then really something can be done,” he said. “But if the governments think that the media should be a tool in their hands, then here comes the problem.”
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