The FRANCE 24 Observers team is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month. To mark the occasion, we selected 10 amateur images – either taken or shared by our Observers – that told the stories of some of the most significant events of the past decade.
In the first part of our two-part series, we take a look at amateur images that documented some of the big stories that took place between 2008 and 2012. We’ve got photos for you from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, showing our commitment to hearing voices from all across the globe.
2008 – The first photos of victims of repression in Tibet
A few months shy of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, an uprising began in Tibet, a vast region under China’s control. On March 10, protesters gathered to call for the liberation of some Tibetan monks who had been imprisoned in October 2007. On March 14, the protests took a violent turn when demonstrators began targeting non-Tibetans living in the region. The Chinese army quickly moved in. They got the situation under control, but not without casualties; according to the government, 19 people were killed in the crackdown, while the leaders of the Tibetan opposition in exile claimed the number was 80.
On March 18, the Free Tibet Campaign shared the very first images showing victims of the crackdown. According to the organisation, the photos were taken near the Kirit monastery shorty after a protest that had been organised by the monks had brought together hundreds of demonstrators. The police allegedly began to shoot at the crowd, killing numerous people. When the FRANCE 24 Observers team shared these images, it offered a rare window into the brutality of the crackdown as Beijing was attempting to muzzle all information about the incident.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS : First pictures of Tibet killings
2009 – After Iran’s "green movement", Twitter becomes THE source for amateur images
On June 13, 2009, the Iranian electoral commission announced the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultra-conservative incumbent president, in his race against Mir Hossein Mousavi, his reformist opponent.
Mousavi immediately rejected the results, denouncing what he claimed were numerous, visible irregularities. People across Iran took to the streets to protest what they firmly believed was a rigged election. They marched under the slogan "Where is my vote?" The popular uprising soon became known as the “green movement” (named after the colour of Mousavi’s party).
Young Iranians in this movement quickly showed how useful Twitter could be. Foreign journalists were not allowed to report within Iran, so the outside world began to rely on the amateur photos posted on this microblogging site to follow the uprising led by the Iranian youth.
Of the many photos that emerged during this time, one of the most striking is this photo of a protest, which shows just how much support the green movement had. Despite this, the uprising would eventually be brutally shut down.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Mobile phones against censors
2010 – Tunisia: the protest in Sidi Bouzid… That turned into a revolution
The FRANCE 24 Observers team was one of the first to cover the protests that would end up becoming the Arab Spring. Starting on December 24, our team posted photos that had been circulating online of the demonstrations going on in Sidi Bouzid, a town in the centre of Tunisia.
Three days prior, Mohammed Bouazizi, a vegetable vendor, had self-immolated in protest at the police taking away his cart.
In response to this horrific event, violent protests erupted across the city.
"For the past three days, Tunisians have taken to social media to share images of the violent clashes that broke out on Friday in the town of Sidi Bouzid, located 265 km southwest of Tunis. It’s rare to see images of protests against security forces and burned cars in a country where the authorities have such a tight grip on information," we wrote at the time. At first, the authorities denied the protests were happening.
Our Observer told us: “It’s the children who have grown up with this regime that are turning against it.”
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Public suicide attempt sparks angry riots in central Tunisia
The protests in Sidi Bouzid marked the beginning of an uprising that would topple the regime of Ben Ali on January 14, 2011 and send shockwaves across Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, creating a movement that would become known as the Arab Spring.
2011 – The post-electoral crisis in the Ivory Coast: four months of intense coverage by our Observers
While dissent was flaring in Tunisia, the Ivory Coast was going through its own troubles, which started in December 2010. On December 2, the independent electoral commission published the results of the presidential election: Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner, beating incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Although the United Nations gave its blessing to this decision, there was a hitch: the constitution council, made up of people close to Gbagbo, quickly invalidated the results and proclaimed Gbagbo the rightful winner.
This sparked a spiral of violence, which lasted until Gbagbo was arrested in early April 2011. Throughout the months of conflict, we received hundreds of photos from people experiencing the fighting at close range and found many more images circulating on social media. Our Observers gave us frequent reports of the happenings on the ground: they explained how extra-judicial killings were occurring, that there were roadblocks in many areas, that thousands of people had been displaced, that many more had trouble finding enough to eat and that looting was rampant. Of all of these photos and eyewitness accounts, we chose the photo of pro-Gbagbo fighters carrying out training exercises in the streets of Abidjan.
2012 – Northern Mali under Islamist occupation: daily life documented by our Observers
Starting in January 2012, different rebel groups including MNLA (Tuareg separatists), Ansar Dine, AQMI and Mujao (jihadists) began attacking several towns located in the north of Mali, a volatile region that had already been affected by frequent Tuareg rebellions.
By late March, the army was fed up with not being given enough resources to provide security for the country. Soldiers carried out a coup d’état. However, this mess further disrupted military operations in the northern part of the country. The insurgents took advantage of the situation to seize the towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, in a few short days.
The jihadists began to progressively implement sharia law in the north of the country. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes was banned, which led to the closure of bars. Music was forbidden and it became obligatory for women to wear a veil. Islamic courts were established and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery and rape were executed or sentenced to corporal punishments (including amputations, whippings and stonings.) Several historic mausoleums were destroyed in Timbuktu.
During this time, our Observers sent photos of the situation and told us about what daily life was like for people living under the new Islamist rulers.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Photos of life in northern Mali under radical Islamists’ control
You can see the second part of "Ten amateur images that marked the past decade" here.