Ten days to be freed

  • On Monday, a video was circulating presenting the two Dutch hostages’ poignant testimony
  • The Hague is working to get them freed as soon as possible

More than a cry for help, it’s a desperate plea. “Doe iets, doe iets met z’n allen.” “Do something to help us.” The journalist Judith Spiegel and her husband Boudewijn Berendsen are facing the camera alone, helpless, terrified. They send a message that leaves one speechless. More than a month after they were kidnapped, their captors are giving only ten days to answer their demands, and if these are not met, the couple could be killed. But what are these demands? Radio silence on this topic, at least publicly. No information is available on either the amount of, or the reason for the ransom. The same goes for the captors’ identities.

The video does, however, give away one crucial piece of information. The Dutch couple is still alive. Judith Spiegel and Boudewijn Berendsen were taken in early June, from the neighborhood in which they were living in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

Spiegel and Berendsen are calling on the Dutch authorities and their embassy to come to their aid. According to the Dutch embassy in Yemen, it has already received an appeal, but has yet to act on their behalf.

The Hague, cloaked in secrecy, is seeking a solution

After the appearance of the video, Frans Timmermans, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, announced that this hostage situation was top of his agenda. He added: “Oratory arts rarely contribute to bringing an issue to an optimal conclusion”. In other words it’s best to negotiate in silence. The same opinion appeared in an editorial of the newspaper NRC Handelsblad for which Spiegel works as a correspondent in Yemen. It then announced that “Dutch foreign affairs and media are doing everything they can to free Judith Spiegel and her husband”. On the other hand, Reporters without Borders are not getting involved at this point. “We are putting all our hopes in the Dutch and European authorities,” states the organization.

The taking of hostages has been, unfortunately, very common for the past few years where a host of armed groups have been tearing the country apart. Kidnapping is a way to pressure authorities to respond to their demands. This is the case for parts of Al-Qaida.

Journalists are often targets for these attacks. Spiegel was aware of kidnapping cases in Yemen. She believed, however, that kidnappings were still, until recently, “mostly harmless”. In one of her articles dating from March 14th, she directly referred to the dangers in the country. “I realize that I no longer feel safe,” she wrote. “Neither in the city, nor in my own street.”

Neubauer’s example

A second passage in her article is particularly hard-hitting in view of present events. She spoke of how a video from February haunted her, when Dominik Neubauer, an Austrian expatriate then being held as hostage, called on the Yemeni and Austrian governments to help him. “Give them what they want, or in seven days I’ll be dead.”

And Spiegel concluded by saying that her Yemeni friends were telling her she would not face any risks because she was one of them.

And that’s how she ended her article, hoping her captors would think the same way. Let’s hope they still do.

CATHERINE JOIE

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