The return of Al Arabiya’s Baker Atyani
Not all stories of abducted journalists have such happy endings; the fate of some journalists and activists can be tragic
“I went there as a journalist in search of the truth. Back then I couldn’t say I possessed that truth but I have now returned with it.” This was what Baker Atyani said after he returned from a journalism mission that almost cost him his life.
The journey of Atyani, who is a colleague at Al Arabiya News Channel, lasted for 18 months. He had traveled to the Philippines to investigate the situation of Muslims in the south of the country, but he was taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf group. This extremist group set Atyani up by accepting his request for an interview. Once he arrived, the group detained him and used him as a bargaining chip. They threatened him several times and placed him in solitary confinement for months. His release required exhausting negotiations.
Not all stories of abducted journalists have such happy endings; the fate of some journalists and activists can be tragic.
However, Baker Atyani managed to return. It is true that he returned ill and that he tolerated the ordeal in a faraway place for more than a year-and-a-half. But he returned. He returned having lived through an experience that not many people possess the courage to face, neither personally, nor professionally.
Not all stories of abducted journalists have such happy endings; the fate of some journalists and activists can be tragicDiana Moukalled
The quick interviews and brief statements which Atyani made after his return imply that he has plenty to tell. But this is not the time. What happened to Atyani urges us to realize the risks this career entails. Atyani went on a journalistic mission, and the price was 18 months of his life. That is 18 months of absence from his family, friends and hometown. But he was never absent from the job as journalism was part and parcel of the tragedy and the experience.
Even when the situation is as tragic as what Atyani went through, the true journalist chronicles the moment by cataloguing what he goes through and integrating it into his professional experience.
The man has won a new life, unlike most journalists who go through similar ordeals. Many journalists were abducted and killed and the fate of many journalists in Syria remains unknown.
Yes, Baker returned to his family, to us and to the profession. He returned with the burden of what we couldn’t bear even after long decades in the job.
Welcome back, Baker. We welcome his return that grants us hope amidst all the losses that engulf us.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 16, 2013.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.