Photojournalist Lucas Dolega died yesterday after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister in Tunis last Friday. The canister, reportedly fired by police at close range, hit Dolega in the left temple. A French Foreign Ministry spokesperson has called Dolega a "victim of a deliberate homicidal act." He was 32 years old.
A stringer for European Pressphoto Agency, Dolega was on assignment covering the uprising against Tunisia's government when he was wounded. Several other photographers rushed him to a hospital, where he underwent surgery, according to EPA.
Belgian photographer Bruno Stevens, who was on the scene, reported on Facebook: "At 4:23PM, Tunisian police force shot a teargas canister in our direction. The projectile...shot horizontally at head level from a distance of less than 20 meters, hit our colleague Lucas Mebrouk Dolega to the head. We gave him first help on the spot, and within a few moments evacuated him in a colleague's car first to 'Le Secours' clinic where Lucas' condition was stabilized before being transported in a neighbor's car to Tunis Rabta Neurologic Hospital."
Stevens goes on to say that Dolega's condition deteriorated after surgery, and he died Monday morning at Rabta hospital, surrounded by his family and friends.
"This was a plain assassination," says Horacio Villalobos, EPA's chief photographer for France, Luxembourg, the UK and Ireland. "How am I going to take the fact that a lethal weapon is pointed toward people at head level, and shot. What is that? A distraction? No? An accident? No. It was with intent to maim or kill."
Villalobos says TV footage of the demonstrations shows police firing the canisters directly at demonstrators. The launchers are intended to lob tear gas canisters into crowds at a high arc, Villalobos explains.
Villalobos says that EPA, along with the governments of France and Germany, have demanded that Tunisian officials investigate Dolega's death. (Dolega is a citizen of both France and Germany.) The Tunisians have promised an investigation, Villalobos says, but adds, "They obviously have other things to worry about."
The Tunisian protests were spurred by unemployment and government corruption. EPA sent Dolega to Tunis last Thursday to cover the increasingly violent demonstrations against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who finally fled the country on Friday. Villalobos says Dolega had filed a set of images on Friday, then had returned to the streets to shoot more images when he was mortally wounded.
Dolega, whose full name was Loucas von Zabiensky-Mebrouk, began working for EPA in 2006 as a freelance photographer in France.
He is survived by a companion and his parents. His family issued a statement announcing his death on Monday, and said "Lucas died while exercising his passion."
EPA has arranged to return Dolega's body to France, Villalobos says. It will arrive in Paris accompanied by family members tomorrow night.