“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’s true that having endured such an ordeal in a faraway place for more than a year-and-a-half, he arrived home in poor health. But still, he was home, having lived through an experience not many people possess the courage to face, neither personally, nor professionally.
The quick interviews and brief statements that 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 grueling as that experienced by Atyani, the true journalist chronicles the moment by cataloging what he goes through and integrating it into his professional experience.
The man has been given a new life, unlike most journalists who go through similar ordeals. Many journalists have been 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 amid all the losses that engulf us.