A New Zealand journalist on Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), currently underway on the client state island, had her accreditation withdrawn on Tuesday for risking “the safety and security of herself and others” by talking to a refugee, according to the local government.
Veteran Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver, from 1 News says she was interviewing a refugee outside a restaurant, and had been told she could by Nauruan officials, when “a police car then turned up with three officers who said I breached my visa and I had to go with them to the police station, where I was questioned for three hours”.
A official from the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs was with her during questioning. She was not charged with any offence and says she was treated “extremely well” by police.
Dreaver says she had just started the interview, but the footage was confiscated. She plans to leave the country along with the New Zealand delegation, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, tomorrow.
“I can do forum stories but am not allowed to report on anything to do with refugees,” she told 1 News.
— Amnesty New Zealand (@AmnestyNZ) September 4, 2018
The Nauruan government denies she was detained, saying Dreaver “voluntarily accompanied” the police “while they made further enquiries”.
Nauru has been used by Australia as a regional processing centre for asylum seekers, and more than 900 people, including around 100 children, remain on the island. Refugee advocates say many are suffering from increasingly serious mental health issues, but reporting on happenings on the island has been difficult.
Questions to the Australian government about their treatment are routinely referred to Nauruan authorities, the government charges journalists an $8000 non-refundable fee to apply for a visa to visit the island. Jst two applications from Australia have been approved in recent years. The fee was waived for the PIF.
Concerns about the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru dominated debate ahead of the summit.
An offer from New Zealand’s Prime Minister to take 150 refugees from Nauru has been turned down by the Australian government on the grounds that it would encourage people smugglers.
Nauru’s government has faced regular corruption claims and is seen as authoritarian amid the removal of senior judiciary figures, a clampdown on opposition MPs and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.
Australian national broadcaster the ABC blocked from attending this week’s forum, with the island’s government saying it was “due to this organisation’s blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 election”.
Leaked emails obtained by the ABC in 2015 revealed allegedly illicit payments to key Nauruan government figures by an Australian company involved in phosphate trade. All denied the allegations.
Nauru will receive a third of its GDP – $AU25.9 million – from the Australian government this financial year, while $AU1.08 billion was spent in FY17 on “offshore management”, which also included the now closed Manus Island facility.
The Nauruan government said today that no journalist was prevented from talking to anyone, including refugees, but journalists have to “follow procedures”, especially if they wanted to “go close to the refugee residential settlements” where “emotions are high” in order to “preserve public safety”.
Here’s the full statement from the government about today’s incident:
New Zealand journalist Barbara Dreaver has today had her PIF accreditation revoked by the Government of Nauru for breaching the terms of her visa. She was not “detained” by police as some reports have stated, but voluntarily accompanied them while they made further enquiries. She still has her visa and is still able to report from Nauru. We thank her for her cooperation.
No journalist on Nauru has been prevented from talking to any person, including refugees. However in order to protect the safety and security of all, journalists were required to follow procedures, which included going through the proper channels in order to visit or go close to the refugee residential settlements, and conduct stories outside of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
Other journalists did this, and the government has assisted them to visit the refugee residential communities, schools, hospitals and access other parts of the island. No restrictions were put on these journalists regarding who they could talk to or what questions they could ask.
However this journalist did not follow procedures, and this potentially risked the safety and security of herself and others. We note that only one New Zealand journalist has requested access to areas on the island and we are currently doing our best to facilitate this.
We urge all journalists on Nauru to abide by their visa requirements. We expect that some will attempt to portray this as Nauru preventing press freedom, however this is not correct. Media from across the world are in Nauru and none have been restricted. Police and security agencies are genuinely concerned about safety and security risks should media take it upon themselves to enter refugee residential settlements where emotions are high. We have only asked for cooperation from media in order to preserve public safety, and this is not unreasonable.
Nauru as a sovereign country has the right to protect its citizens and residents, and we do not apologise for this.
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