UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has deplored the death of French photographer Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, who died on 17 January.
The Paris-based, French-German dual national photographer was covering the protests in Tunisia when, on Friday 14 January, he was hit, in the face, by a tear gas canister fired by a police officer. According to reports, Dolega was hit at point-blank range, suffering head trauma.
"The death of Lucas Mebrouk Dolega is a tragic reminder of the difficult and dangerous situations in which media professionals must often work," says Bokova. "His death also reminds us of how important that work is. Journalists stand as witnesses to the events and actions that shape our lives and societies. Their work contributes to the development of transparent and accountable decision-making, which is one of the conditions demanded by today's citizens. National authorities everywhere have a responsibility to ensure that the media can do its job in the most secure conditions possible."
She adds: "I would urge that every possible effort be made to shed full light on the circumstances of Lucas Mebrouk Dolega's death."
The UNESCO's call for an investigation comes after a French Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said that Dolega had been the "victim of a deliberate homicidal act." In a statement, the French government has also called for an investigation.
Dolega's full name is Loucas Mebrouk Von Zabiensky, but he is known to his friends and colleagues as Lucas Dolega. He was born in 19 August 1978, and joined the European Pressphoto Agency in April 2006. Speaking to RTL radio in France on Friday 14 January, Dolega's father, said that "Lucas always dreamed of being a photojournalist. He was, not too long ago, in Congo. He also went to Thailand. He was happy to go to Tunis, and I was happy for him as well. We never thought this could happen."
Dolega had arrived in Tunisia on 13 January, the eve of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's ouster," says Reporters Without Borders. "He was covering protests outside the interior ministry in Tunis at around 2pm on 14 January when he was struck on the head, between the left eye and temple, by a tear-gas grenade. Rushed to hospital, he underwent an operation in the evening."
On Sunday morning, as reported by BJP, his agency announced that the photographer had died. But that information was quickly denied by the family, which issued a statement claiming that the photographer was still alive but in an extremely critical state. The statement read: "The partner and family of French photographer Lucas Mebrouk clarify that at this time, he has not died. Nevertheless, he is in an extremely critical state."
But, on Monday 17 January, Dolega's family issued another statement announcing the death, at 1.30pm local time, of the esteemed French photographer.
It now remains unclear whether an investigation into his death will be launched. However, Horacio Villalobos, EPA's Paris bureau chief, says that the "incident" was deliberate. "If a police officer shoots a tear gas canister, such as in this case, less than five meters away, aiming for the head, it's with the goal of injuring someone, if not kill him," says Villalobos . "For me, as Lucas' friend and colleague, I believe this [was deliberate]. It's not a lost bullet. I think it was a crime, a real murder.”
News editor's note (16 January 2011, 7.30pm, London): On the morning of Sunday 16 January, friends and colleagues of Lucas Dolega confirmed that the French-German dual national photographer had died after being hit, on Friday, by a tear-gas canister. His death was also confirmed by his agency, EPA, and in a statement by Reporters Without Borders. However, at 6pm, Reuters issued a wire announcing that the photographer was still alive but in a very critical condition. Reuters quotes a statement released by the family. BJP is now trying to confirm that statement. EPA has yet to respond to our requests for further comments.
Family statement as issued on Sunday 16 January at 6pm: "The partner and family of French photographer Lucas Mebrouk clarify that at this time, he has not died. Nevertheless, he is in an extremely critical state."
Update (16 January 2011, 10pm): According to EPA, Lucas Dolega is currently being kept alive by a series of machines. The family has, so far, declined to communicate further details of Dolega's medical state.
This article was updated on 17 January 2011 at 11.50am and at 10pm with news of Dolega's death. It was further updated on 20 January, announcing the UNESCO's call for an investigation.
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