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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 March 2005, 13:32 GMT
Giuliana Sgrena: 'Voice of weakest'

Giuliana Sgrena arriving in Italy on 5 March
Sgrena has tried to be the voice of the poor
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena never thought she would be taken hostage telling the story of the people she deeply cared for.

A toughened war correspondent, her reports filter the impact of conflict through the lives of ordinary people - precisely what she was doing in Baghdad on 4 February when she was seized by gunmen.

The former left-wing militant has often been described as an advocate of the dispossessed and the have-nots.

For my whole life, I have fought and written on behalf of the weakest
Giuliana Sgrena
She once said war correspondents "make known the reality which otherwise would just be described in official war bulletins and propaganda pamphlets".

And through the life-stories of individuals - in Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere - Sgrena built a long career that began long before she joined her current employers at the communist newspaper Il Manifesto in 1988.

Support for weakest

The daughter of a World War II veteran, Sgrena was one of the founders of the peace movement in the 1980s.

Before joining Il Manifesto, she worked for the daily Guerra e Pace (War and Peace), but she made her name at the communist newspaper mainly through her avowed affinity with the Arab world.

"For my whole life, I have fought and written on behalf of the weakest," she said in a video put together by those who campaigned to secure her release.

Giuliana Sgrena
Giuliana Sgrena is a seasoned war correspondent
With this in mind, the reporter refused to become embedded with the US military during the war - choosing, instead, to remain in Iraq on her own during the major hostilities of the spring of 2003.

She then returned to the country periodically, focusing on the suffering of ordinary Iraqis brought about by a war she was vehemently opposed to.

In a telling story, she interviewed an Iraqi woman who said she was held at Abu Ghraib prison for 80 days by US forces.

Through Sgrena, Mithal al-Hassan said: "There were times when they didn't give me any water or food at all. Then, from the neighbouring cells I could hear the screams... There was no way you could sleep... I couldn't stand things any more. In the end I asked if I could write a note for my children, because I wanted to commit suicide."

Caged bird

Sgrena's outspoken anti-war stance should have endeared her to Iraqi insurgents fighting the US-led forces, said friends and colleagues shocked at her capture on 4 February.

Giuliana Sgrena in a militants' video pleading for her release
Dear Giuliana, in the video you seemed to me like a caged bird, with your ruffled hair and your frightened look
Pier Scolari
Sgrena's partner
In a video pleading for her release days after being abducted, the war correspondent was on the verge of tears as she said: "Nobody should come to Iraq at this time. Not even journalists. Nobody."

The message - recorded under the guns of masked men - certainly clashed with her quest for "people and social classes that are not well known, in countries that are often forgotten, in order to describe the reality of their daily lives", said her partner, Pier Scolari.

After seeing the plea, Mr Scolari wrote to her through Il Manifesto encapsulating his feelings at the apparent transformation of his loved one.

"Dear Giuliana, in the video you seemed to me like a caged bird, with your ruffled hair and your frightened look," his message said.

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