‘During my kidnapping I continued doing journalistic work’

'During my kidnapping I continued doing journalistic work'

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The French independent journalist Olivier Dubois was released on Tuesday, after having spent 711 kidnapped by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali. Who was the last French hostage in the world spoke to RFI upon his arrival in France.

RFI: How did it feel to see your family for the first time after your release?

Olivier Dubois: I felt an immense happiness. I saw them in the VIP room when I landed. I got out of the plane and it was as if I had been magnetized. First I met my parents, then I greeted President Emmanuel Macron, and then I was able to hug my son, my daughter and my partner. I’ve been listening to your messages on RFI for two years and I was finally able to touch them.

RFI: What were your living conditions like during your capture?

Olivier Dubois: They were prisoner conditions. You are in chains and they consider you a criminal, an infidel. They honestly did not mistreat me: they did not hit me or humiliate me.

Still, being a prisoner in the Azawad region of Mali is living out in the open all the time, be it a sandstorm, sun, cold or rain. It means traveling by motorcycle and truck, eating on the ground, washing and relieving themselves outside. It means always living outside. It is a discomfort that, after a while, becomes a habit.

RFI: Did you have contact with other hostages?

Olivier Dubois: You often change places for security reasons: you can stay two or three weeks, six months at the most, in the same place.

And then, yes, I met another hostage, with whom I shared captivity. It is about a South African named Gerco Jacobus van Deventer, who was kidnapped in Libya in November 2017 and later sold to jihadists. We were a little over a year and a half together. We separated on March 14 of this year. That day they told him to grab a blanket and a bottle; he got on a motorcycle and I never saw him again. They released me two days later.

I think he is still in the Kidal region. I can imagine the conditions he is in because we lived through them together. And I want to add that it is time for this to end because it is already his sixth year and he does not deserve this. He must go home.

RFI: How did you manage to keep hope?

Olivier Dubois: By the end of the second or third day, I was lying under a mat drinking tea, while my captors slept. I said to myself: “If you lie like this for a long time, Olivier, it’s going to have an impact on your mind and your body.”

So I started to plan a program to occupy my days, with victories and small satisfactions that would allow me to stay afloat.

I applied it from the beginning to the end of my captivity and it helped me a lot.

The program was based on physical activity, but also on reading. I asked to read the Qur’an, to know what it contained, to understand them, to understand. This book is important to them. If you understand it, you already understand them a little better and you can discuss with them, exchange. In that, they were open and we were able to debate. It never caused any problems. There could be differences of opinion, but never with violence or aggression.

They have their point of view, we have ours. They have their way of seeing things, which is clear and conflicts with ours, but we could talk about it.

Another issue was the kitchen. I couldn’t bear to eat what they served me. So with Gerco we asked to have a pressure cooker and make our own food. We went to chop wood, we built our own shelter, we kept ourselves busy. Setting yourself challenges allows you to have some kind of satisfaction. Eating things that make you happy and playing sports strengthened us mentally and physically.

RFI: You are a journalist and you were kidnapped while doing your job. Did you ever think of telling what happened on your way out?

Olivier Dubois: During my kidnapping I continued to do journalistic work to the extent possible. It was not easy because there was a language barrier. I was guarded by “mujahideen” who spoke mostly Tamasheq, or Arabic. I don’t speak Tamasheq or Arabic.

On the rare occasions when we managed to communicate, I learned a lot. I also spoke a bit with French-speaking “moudjahideen”. I dedicated myself to observing. He would provoke debates and then try to put them in writing.

After a while, I said to myself: “They kidnapped you trying to conduct an interview with these people. Now that you’re inside, open your eyes, listen, discuss, talk, explain to them that you also want to understand.” And I think they got it, after a while.

Little by little, things began to loosen up a bit, exchanges could be made, explanations. As a prisoner, you are in the dark all the time. But I was still able to gather information.

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Written by Editor TLN

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