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Foreign journalists arrested, fined for trespassing

(MISA/IFEX) - Namibia police arrested two foreign journalists on allegations of trespassing and working without accreditation. South African filmmaker Bart Smithers and British investigative journalist Jim Wickens were arrested near the coastal town of Swakopmund on 16 July 2009. Chief Crime Investigator for the Erongo Region, Charles Sibolile, confirmed the arrest of the two foreign journalists under the Marine Resources Act while filming the annual Namibia seal hunt at Cape Cross. According to the police, access to Cape Cross, "is highly restricted during the culling season."

A media affairs director in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Wilma Deetlefs, confirmed that the journalists did not have media accreditation to allow them to operate in Namibia, adding that the Namibia Film Commission might also press charges against the two foreign journalists.

The two journalists are being held a Henties Bay Police Station and have yet to appear before the Swakopmund Magistrate Court.

"The Namibian" newspaper reported on 17 June 2009 that the two journalists might also face charges of concealing their identity by entering Namibia with a tourism visa and for having failed to apply for accreditation from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.

Smithers and Wickens appeared before magistrate Harris Salionga at Swakopmund Magistrate Court on 17 July 2009. They both pleaded guilty and were each fined N$10 000 (approx. US$ 1250). The court held back N$5000 (US$625) for five years on condition that the two are not found guilty of a similar offence in this period.

According to Namibian Marine Resources Act, trespassing in the marine protected area could cost the offender a fine of N$ 500,000 (approx. US$ 62,500) or 12 months' imprisonment.

On 20 July 2009, "The Namibian" newspaper reported that although the police claimed to have deleted all footage taken by the two journalists, some footage was smuggled out and will possibly be aired by the international press. It is believed that the footage shows that the seal cull is not being done according to prescribed regulations.

The two journalists were on assignment for the British environmental group, Ecostorm. The British High Commission in Namibia is reportedly investigating the matter.

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