In a statement on Saturday, Gift of the Givers revealed that photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed’s captors have demanded $1.5 million (R21.5 million) for his release, which is far more than his family can afford.
Following the proof of life video that Gift of the Givers received from Shiraaz’s captors in Syria last Friday, his abductors called this week to commence negotiations on the way forward, said the organisation’s Imtiaz Sooliman.
“The demand for Shiraaz’s release is 1.5 million USD. We made it clear that this was not possible. We stated that Shiraaz’s family does not have the means, nor is Shiraaz the employee of a large corporate company that could assist with payment and the South African government will not pay. They said they giving us time to consider options.
“In a subsequent conversation we said the figure was too high. They said it was negotiable. They called again on Thursday evening, they seemed anxious and said they need to conclude this deal urgently.
“The Russians were bombing South Idlib and North Hama very aggressively and they are afraid that Shiraaz could be killed in the bombing. We went to Shiraaz’s family today to explain this new development and possible consequences.
“This is exactly what Shiraaz was afraid of in the video where he makes a plea for assistance to secure his release. Our hospital in Syria has confirmed that the bombing has increased substantially, that the medical administration in Idlib has requested Gift of the Givers Ar Rahma Hospital to be one of the facilities to be on standby to receive patients from a distance is 70km. We have received the first two patients yesterday.
“We are currently engaging with religious leaders to provide letters requesting the unconditional release of Shiraaz immediately, to prevent a tragedy. We lost Pierre Korkie on the day that his release was secured, Stephen McGown’s mother passed on one month before Stephen was released, we certainly don’t want to live through another such incident.”
Last week, Sooliman said it had taken two years and three months to receive proof Mohamed was even still alive.
“A photojournalist, with a passion to document the hardships of communities in distress, he wanted to narrate the tragedy of the Syrian people to the world through pictures. Shiraaz has been accused of being a foreign spy, a disingenuous way to justify the captivity of an innocent man,” said Sooliman.
“On 8 January 2018, the first proof of life was received in the form of answers to 10 very personal questions which only Shiraaz could answer. The answers were accurate and Shiraaz’s family had no doubt that it was from him.”
In the most recent video, Shiraaz could clearly be seen holding up a sign with the date the footage was presumably shot. He pleaded for help and said that Russian air force bombing efforts from were getting closer to where he was being held.
Shiraaz said: “I live in fear of my life. I am scared … I need your help. Please help me.”