Saturday, August 27, 2011

War Zone Bikers - Rebels free Mathew VanDyke from Tripoli prision

Moto-Writer Matthew VanDyke Missing in Libya
Tags: Libya, Matthew VanDyke, Middle East, motojournalism, motorcycle adventure

Matthew VanDyke had only just returned to his home in Baltimore, Maryland, after one of his many motorcycle trips through the Middle East, and was in the process of editing a book about those journeys when he received an e-mail from a friend in the region. The "Arab Spring" had finally arrived in Libya, and VanDyke saw an opportunity for the perfect literary epilogue, so off he went.

Today, writer and rider Matthew VanDyke has been missing for more than four months.
Libyan Conflict

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, people of the region have become impatient and incensed with the rulers who control nearly every aspect of their lives. Nations from Morocco to Oman have seen protests, riots and even what some would call revolutions. The cry has been for freedom, against corruption, and about the basic human rights of people to live a decent life. It has been dubbed the "Arab Spring" and its energy arrived in Libya in mid-February of 2011.

As anyone who watched the news during this time knows, it has been a less than peaceful series of events inside of Libya itself. Currently, things are very hot over there, NATO forces are enforcing a no-fly zone and have been doing their best to support the rebel ground forces in their fight. However, the despotic leader of the nation of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, is holding firm to his grip on power – and people critical of him, journalists, and just people off the street are vanishing every single day.

Matthew VanDyke's Disappearance

VanDyke was drawn to Libya by a trusted friend and a need to be there when the world changed for those he cared about. After all, who could resist the urge to be with good people and to document their courageous fight for freedom? Someone must write the story of those who perish in the conflict. The role of the journalist was for VanDyke, but the position as incarcerated freelance writer was not what anyone wanted.

The last time VanDyke's mother, Sharon VanDyke, heard her son's voice was on 12 March 2011, when he was on his way to the coastal oil city of Brega. Leaving from the rebel-held Benghazi, VanDyke had only planned for a day trip. The following day he sent some GPS coordinates, but his girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, saw no need for alarm as they did not receive an agreed upon SOS message. However, that was the last thing anyone heard from Matthew VanDyke.

A Journalist in Libya

To date, along with VanDyke, it is estimated that at least 17 journalists are in the custody of police or military personnel loyal to Colonel Gaddafi, but the real number remains unknown. At least seven writers and photographers are known to have been killed, and that number is expected to raise significantly once more information is flowing from the African nation. After four months of this, no one yet knows if VanDyke is among those locked up, and the Libyan officials are only saying that they do not know.

VanDyke's mother continued calling her son's phone between 30 and 40 times a day the week after he disappeared, but she only received a brief message in Arabic. Shortly thereafter she received a call from a man with an Arabic accent, but he hung up; later that same day, she finally managed to get through to VanDyke's mobile phone. The man who answered said she had the wrong number, but he wished her well and hung up. Phone companies were actually able to confirm that the phone she was calling belonged to the young VanDyke.

United States Response

The Matthew VanDyke disappearance is not being ignored by the U.S. government, but there is only so much it can do at this point. Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, hosted a news conference on 23 May in order to call attention to VanDyke's situation. Two days later, Deputy Libyan Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim formally stated that he has no information on VanDyke's location, but this is normal for Libya as they only identify foreign journalists in custody after days, weeks or months in captivity.
The U.S. State Department is working hard on gathering information about and trying to free VanDyke and the other five known incarcerated American citizens.

What Next?

For now, Susan VanDyke is watching every story that comes out of Libya for some hint of information and she is keeping a bag packed in case she gets the call to go to Libya. She is even considering a trip to the war-torn nation to bring photos of her son and to look for him herself; two months ago she brought them to the Libyan embassy in Turkey.

Matthew VanDyke has been imprisoned before, back in 2010 while on the road north of Baghdad, and was accused of being part of al-Qaida and beaten severely. He was there along with photographer Daniel C. Britt, who VanDyke had met in the same area the year before, working on an East-meets-West travelogue film as they rode their motorcycles through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Britt was most impressed with how VanDyke handled his incarceration, and has confidence in VanDyke's ability to deal with the treacherous situation he may be in now.

What You Can Do?

If you are interested in keeping track of Matthew VanDyke, a Facebook Page has been created where you can send your thoughts and well-wishes to his family and friends. There will also be periodic updates on what is known about VanDyke, and notes on the progress made in locating him. Make sure you share it with your friends and family and assist in keeping motojournalist Matthew VanDyke's story on the front page of everyone's mind.

Free Matthew VanDyke Facebook Page:

Free at last: US writer who thought he would die in Gaddafi's prison

For Matthew VanDyke, held in solitary confinement since March, the rebels' arrival in Tripoli marked the end of a grotesque nightmare

By Jerome Taylor

Saturday, 27 August 2011

An American writer who spent five months languishing in a Libyan prison spoke of his relief yesterday at being freed by rebel fighters.

Matthew VanDyke, a freelance writer from Baltimore who has traveled extensively in the Middle East on his motorbike, was seized by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on 13 March near the town of Brega. He had previously traveled to Libya in 2008 and decided to return to the country when revolution broke out in late February.

Ambushed by regime forces on what was then a constantly shifting front line, he was taken to Tripoli and held in solitary confinement in the capital's notorious Abu Salim prison. His family began a campaign to try to free him but Colonel Gaddafi's government refused to confirm whether he was in its custody.

Speaking to the BBC World Service yesterday, Mr VanDyke described hearing the cries of fellow prisoners being tortured by prison guards. "I believe we were ambushed," he said, recounting his capture. "I was hit in the head and I woke up in a room to the sounds of a man being tortured in the room above."

He added: "They told me nothing about what I was accused of, whether I would ever be released; they just locked me in a room and gave me food, kept me alive, and no real interaction with anybody for about six months. I thought they would execute me. I never knew."

The Independent yesterday spoke to Haytham Abdullah, a Libyan freedom fighter who was captured by Gaddafi forces in Zawiyah and shared a cell next to Mr VanDyke until they were released on Wednesday evening. "The rebels broke into the prison and set us free," he said. "We are so happy. Matthew was my neighbor for 50 days." He added: "I just want to thank England for helping us get rid of that motherfucker Gaddafi. Please excuse my language."

The United States yesterday said that, after Mr VanDyke's escape, all American citizens in Libya had been accounted for. His freedom also brings an end to a harrowing ordeal for his family, who battled to discover his whereabouts and campaigned for his release.

Speaking from her home in Baltimore, Mr VanDyke's mother, Sharon, said she was deeply relieved to receive a call from her son telling her that he was safe. "It's the thrill of the chase and the adrenaline rush that motivates him," she said, explaining her son's reasons for traveling to dangerous places," she said. "He's writing a book about riding his motorbike through the Middle East. Of all the places he traveled to, Libya was the country he loved the most. When the revolution broke out he felt compelled to travel there."

Ms VanDyke said that her son was intending to stay in Libya because he wanted to try to locate some of his friends who have gone missing. "He always said he'd stay until Gaddafi goes," she said. "We keep trying to tell him that Gaddafi is gone but he wants to find out what happened to his friends."

Meanwhile, Nuri Lamin, a Libyan in London who was waiting to hear from two uncles who were arrested by regime forces two days before the February revolution began, said that both had now been located. "They were held in Abu Salim prison but they managed to escape with around 20 other people about a month ago," he said. "They stayed in a safe house near Abu Salim. There were too many Gaddafi troops so they couldn't flee to the western mountains. We just found out now that they are back in Misrata and are safe."

Mohammed bin Lamin is one of Libya's best-known artists and his brother Habib is a poet.

No comments:

Post a Comment