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Chiba’s photo of young Sudan protesters wins 2020 World Press Photo of Year

By Imane Rachidi

The Hague, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Japanese photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba on Thursday was presented with the World Press Photo Award for his image of a peaceful protest by a group of young people in Sudan who were illuminating with their mobile phones a boy as he recited a poem to the crowd in a blackout in Khartoum last year.

The photo – titled “Straight Voice” – was taken June 19, 2019, in the Sudanese capital during demonstrations against the military junta and calling for civilian rule.

“This moment was the only peaceful group protest I encountered during my stay. I felt their undefeated solidarity like burning embers that remain to flare up again,” said Chiba.

With a blackout under way in Khartoum, the young people used their mobile phones to provide light for the boy to recite a protest poem with his hand on his chest as they chanted anti-government slogans and applauded.

The image was selected by the judging panel as the best journalistic photo of the year because, according to Chris McGrath, a photographer for Getty Images and member of the panel, “It was just a really beautiful, quiet photograph that summed up all the unrest across the globe of people wanting change,” protests that were staged on several continents during 2019.

Chiba is the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse for East Africa and Indian Ocean and is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya.

He studied photography as Musashino Art University in Tokyo then started working as a staff photographer for Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese daily. In 2007, he because a freelance photographer and moved to Kenya, then joined AFP in Brazil in 2011.

Covering the Sudanese protests was the first assignment for Chiba in that country, where the army deposed then-President Omar al-Bashir, who had clung to power for 29 years amid accusations of corruption and with an arrest order issued for him by the International Court of Justice in The Hague for crimes in Darfur.

Chiba recalled that two weeks before he arrived in Sudan, an unknown military group broke up a peaceful sit-in and killed more than 100 people. After that tragedy, they blocked the Internet and one night he and his colleagues went to a residential area of the city where opposition leaders had convened a meeting during a total power blackout.

That was when, quite suddenly, a group of people began clapping in the darkness and a young boy stood among them reciting a very famous protest poem while the onlookers and listeners shouted “Zaura” (“revolution,” in Arabic).

“His facial expressions and his voice made an impression on me. I couldn’t stop focusing on him to capture the entire moment,” Chiba said, adding that he hoped the image would “attract more attention for the situation in Sudan and its elections,” scheduled for 2022.

Lekgetho Makola, another jury member, said that the image is powerful because the viewer is “seeing this young person, who is not shooting, who is not throwing a stone, but reciting a poem. It’s acknowledging, but also voicing a sense of hope,” noting “Especially in the time that we’re living in when there’s a lot of violence and a lot of conflicts, it’s important that we have an image that inspires people.”

The jury also selected French photo-journalist Romain Laurendeau’s “Kho, the Genesis of Revolt” as the World Press Photo Story of the year, a series that focuses on the unease of young Algerians who, in daring to challenge the authorities, inspired the rest of the population to join in their action, thus creating the largest protest movement in Algeria in recent decades.

“It was impossible for a part of me not to recognize myself in these young people. They are young but they are tired of this situation and they just want to live like everyone else,” said Laurendeau, who has professional experience in France, Senegal, Algeria, Palestine and Israel.

The independent jury of the 2020 Digital Storytelling Contest selected “Battleground PolyU” by DJ Clark/China Daily – a 360-degree experience that immerses the viewer in the November 2019 democracy protests in Hong Kong – as the World Press Photo Interactive of the Year.

The jury also selected “Scenes From a Dry City” – reflecting on the impact in Capetown, South Africa, of the global climate and water crisis on both the landscape and society – by Francois Verster/Simon Wood/Field of Vision, as the World Press Photo Online Video of the Year.


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