On New Year's Day, Jaime Razuri, a 50-year-old Peruvian photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, was kidnapped at gunpoint on a street in the Gaza Strip.
Razuri was standing in front of the AFP office when five masked men approached him, pushed him in a car and sped away, officials said. Beyond that details about the incident are very sketchy.
Details remain sketchy.
This is a story of community, camaraderie, and international solidarity. This is a story with a happy ending.
Jaime is a friend of mine. I got to know him while helping him polish his English for his assignment covering the World Cup soccer tournament last year. It would be tough to think of a less political, more kind person than Jaime. He is very soft spoken which can often camoflague his sharp sense of humor.
Despite that demeanor, Jaime is also a consumate journalist and a veteran of some of the most dangerous conflicts in recent times. Shying from danger is not his style. He has covered Iraq, Haiti as well as the two-decade long Shining Path insurgency in his native Peru. (You get an inkling into the type of work he is used to in this YouTube video someone put together recently)
With the exception of Reporters Without Borders and the briefest of mentions on CNN International, Rázuri's kidnapping hardly caught the glance of major media outlets in North America and Western Europe. That will probably surprise few readers, but the outpouring of support and solidarity from Peruvian and Palestinian bloggers and journalists was surely unexpected.
Almost immediately the Foreign Press Association of Peru [ES] condemned the kidnapping and set up a weblog to post updates on the situation. Most of the posts are straightforward: a biography, news of candlelight vigils, institutional letters of support, and an undersigned letter of solidarity.
But it is among the comments following each and every post where we come to realize that Jamie Rázuri is much more than a courageous photographer. Affectionately nicknamed Momo, he is also a surfer, a loved professor, friend, and colleague. Here are translations of just a few of the hundreds of comments:
Amaro la Rosa: Jaime, we are with you, every journalist from Peru. I've known you since you began your career and your professional successes have always given me joy. I hope you are among us very soon. A big hug.
Miguel C.: We'll wait for you Momo.
Anonymous: From the USA, I am waiting for the good news of your freedom. I was your student at the University of Lima and I very much admire your work and your journalistic trajectory. God bless and protect you …
Isaac Toboada: Greetings from South Korea. We await your impending freedom and hope that you are soon by all of your family.
Joceline from Jerusalem: Dearest Momimo, Just a few hours after the kidnapping, I heard on national television that one of the victims was a dear and remembered Peruvian friend who studied with me at the university and shared the profession of journalism. Momimo, I write to you from Jerusalem where I now live and I send all of my strength. My thoughts have not left you since the moment you were captured. What grand impotence it is to know that a friend is in danger, so very near, and to not be able to do anything to help him! In this upside down world, I am grateful for the technology that allows us to unite, in this one page, all of your family members, friends, and colleagues in the world. Our hearts are skipping beats waiting for your quick release. Many years ago, before I left Peru, you brought me a bottle of Pisco that we drank until it was gone. I hope with all my heart to be able to cheers “salud” with you when all of this has concluded and that your bold ingenuity and creative free spirit remain intact in spite of all the injustices that I imagine have seen your camera. This Friday I will go to the Wailing Wall to place a prayer for you. I admit that in moments like this, it is very tough to be here, in this Holy and Sacred Land, today full of so much devilry and pain. Please don't lose faith in God and trust the virtue of good people. Although hidden in this crazy world we live in, they are (we are) with you at all hours!
Walter Neira Bronttis: Sunday, [December] 31 Jaime Razuri was able to send a New Year's greeting to a group of his friends. This email was accompanied by a photograph of a flower from Gaza which he titled “For a better world.” And one of the phrases that he chose to share with us in this greeting shows the good and supportive Jaime that today we miss: ” … all of the happiness of the world comes from the desire to make others happy. All of the suffering of the world comes from the desire for the same happiness …” (Shantideva) Today, the same solidarity moves us. Because we also put trust in this phrase, we demand the immediate release of Jaime; the close friend, the talented and sincere professional. Like doña Delia, his mother, we maintain the firm hope of having him back among us soon and out of danger. Meanwhile, let's gather everyone possible in this crusade for life and for peace. Walter Neira Bronttis, Lima, Perú.
Cecilia Rázuri: Little brother; with all of the faith and hope that you will soon be with your family, I hope that the unity demonstrated by all of those who love you – family, friends, and colleagues – is transformed into the strength that you need now in such difficult and unordinary moments. While I anxiously wait for the phone call from Lima in which they finally tell me it's all over, I beg to the Lord that your captors see reason and release you immediately! Cecilia, Barcelona, Spain.
The comments continue [ES] … and continue … and continue. They pour in from family members, friends, former students, colleagues, reporters, columnists, and absolute strangers. They come from Buenos Aires, New York, Berlin, Miami, South Korea, Caracas, and beyond. Calls of support also came immediately from Peru's established blogging community. Letra Suelta expressed “solidarity with Jaime Rázuri [ES].” Rolly Valdivia Chávez added:
Si bien no conozco a Rázuri personalmente, sé de su capacidad profesional y de la calidad de su trabajo, cualidades que lo convierten en uno de los más respetados reporteros gráficos del país y un testigo presencial de los acontecimientos de mayor interés noticioso de los últimos tiempos.
Another popular Peruvian blogger, however, did personally know Rázuri. As “Danza Invisible” of Tan sólo unas burbujas recounts [ES]:
Durante mis épocas universitarias, cuando me tocó llevar el curso de Fotografía, escuchamos por primera vez el apodo “Momimo”: así llamaban todos a nuestro jefe de prácticas. Muchas chicas andaban medio arrastrándole el ala más o menos descaradamente (yo sólo suspiraba en silencio, jeje), por sus bellos ojos, pero él desalentó todo ese torrente hormonal del alumnado aún cuasi-adolescente manteniéndose siempre muy serio y profesional.
Finalmente descubrimos que no se trataba de “sobradez” sino que era la persona más talentosa y entregada de lleno a su vocación que conocíamos. Su dedicación era comparable a la de un monje. Y su variada producción la hemos podido seguir en todos estos largos 20 años transcurridos desde que aprobamos Fotografía (o sea, desde el Quinto Ciclo de Facultad).
We finally discovered that it didn't have to do with charm, but rather that he was the most talented and passionate person of his vocation that we knew. His dedication was comparable with that of a monk. And we have been able to follow his varied production in these long 20 years that have passed since we tried Photography. (or, that is, since the fifth semester of college).
Shows of support and concern also occurred offline. In France, heeding the call of Reporters Without Borders, “around 50 journalists and photographers gathered … outside the headquarters of the French news agency Agence France-Presse in Paris in a show solidarity.” Fellow Peruvian photographer Jose Orihuela took pictures at the candlelight vigil held in Lima and uploaded them to Flickr. In Gaza, according to Al-Jazeerah and the Palestine News Network, “more than 200 Palestinian journalists held a sit-in and march in Ramallah Sunday afternoon in protest of attacks on members of the press. Among the subjects was the kidnapping of photographer Jaime Razuri.”
And then, finally, on Sunday, January 7, a week after he was first kidnapped, came this post, titled, “Free: Jaime is back with us: He was released an hour ago in Gaza, safe and out of danger.” In all caps of joy:
LOS ADMINISTRADORES DE ESTE BLOG AGRADECEMOS A TODOS LOS FAMILIARES, PERIODISTAS, AMIGOS, INSTITUCIONES Y GOBIERNOS QUE EXPRESARON SU SOLIDARIDAD EN LAS DIFERENTES ACCIONES REALIZADAS EN EL PERÚ Y EL MUNDO DEMANDANDO LA LIBERTAD DE JAIME RÁZURI.
GRACIAS ESPECIALMENTE A TODOS AQUELLOS QUE SE UNIERON A NOSOTROS EN ESTE BLOG:HAN DEJADO AQUÍ EXPRESIONES MARAVILLOSAS DE AFECTO QUE JAIME SEGURAMENTE VALORARÁ EN TODA SU DIMENSIÓN. LOS ADMINISTRADORES NOS ALEGRAMOS DE DAR POR CONCLUÍDA NUESTRA PEQUEÑA MISIÓN.
Thanks especially to those who united with us on this blog. You have left marvelous and fond expressions that Jaime will sure value completely. The administrators are joyful for having concluded our small mission.
Quoting Agence France-Presse, Razuri's friend C.J. Schexnayder revealed his own elation:
Jaime Razuri was released by his captors in the Gaza Strip earlier today.
According to Agence France-Presse, Razuri was taken to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“I'm fine. I'm very happy to be released. They treated me well and gave me good food,” Razuri said minutes after he was freed.
“It was not a five-star hotel but it was very good. I was treated very well. I'm as well as I was when I arrived in Gaza.” He also thanked “all those who were involved in my release.”
And his former student who secretly swooned? Also immensely happy.