Last Saturday grief and shock overwhelmed what had been relief and happiness as France celebrated the release of French hostages kidnapped three years ago in Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
But only days after the release of Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol and Marc Feret came news that two experienced journalists from Radio France International (RFI) had been abducted in Kidal, North Mali.
And two hours after news of the kidnapping broke, reports emerged that Claude Verlon, 55, and Ghislaine Dupont, 57, had been killed. A French patrol found their bodies, riddled with bullets, about 12 kilometres outside Kidal.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said the journalists were kidnapped outside the house of a Tuareg official they had just interviewed who was involved in the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
“To kill a journalist is always to commit a double murder,” the foreign minister said. On Tuesday he indicated that France would stick to its timetable for withdrawing troops from Mali despite a resurgence in violence and the killing of the journalists.
Questions now remain about how Verlon and Dupont, experienced journalists familiar with the area, could have been kidnapped and murdered in such a terrible way in the middle of the day.
According to Christine Saragosse, CEO of France Médias Monde, owners of RFI, the journalists “didn’t take undue risks”.
“I have a big anger,” said Saragosse on Radio France. “We tend to think freedom of information is assured, but we know that in most fields it is a [fight], and that [this right] is sometimes regressing. I don’t want to give up. The anger will give us even more desire to not shut our mouths because of these barbarians.”
The violent deaths have shocked the nation and raised questions throughout the journalism community about freedom of information and freedom of speech. According to French non-government organisation Reporters Without Borders, 45 journalists were killed worldwide while doing their job since the beginning of this year, and 88 were killed last year.
This raises issues about the safety of sending journalists into the field in areas of conflict where they are often seen as allies of governments and easy targets.