The United Arab Emirates’ National Media Council has tried to justify the recent detention of two Swiss journalists who were held for 50 hours while preparing reports on the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum. It claims the reporters broke UAE laws and regulations.
The National Media Council (NMC)external link, which oversees media activities in the Gulf state, issued a statement saying it “respects the right of all media outlets to freely inform through the United Arab Emirates”, AFP reported on Tuesday.
However, it added that media activities must be carried out “in accordance with the laws and regulations” in force.
Journalist Serge Enderlin and cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson from Swiss public television, RTS, were detained on Thursday when they were filming at an open-air market in Abu Dhabi. They were released on Sunday after being detained for 50 hours.
They had been accredited for the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museumexternal link and during the week had filmed the museum and interviewed its French architect Jean Nouvel.
The NMC acknowledged that Enderlin and Bjorgvinsson had obtained permits to film in and around the Louvre. But it said Abu Dhabi police saw them entering the “secure” Mussafah area “without permission” and arrested them “for interrogation”, AFP reported. They were then taken to a police station to answer questions and released without charge, the NMC added.
The journalists appeared on RTS on Sunday external linkafter they returned to Switzerland. Enderlin said he and Bjorgvinsson were conducting interviews at a market frequented by Pakistani immigrant workers when police stopped them.
“We were spotted by the police when we were filming in a market on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi where tens of thousands of immigrant workers live who are building this country in back-breaking conditions. We just wanted to document their lives,” Enderlin told RTS.
UAE security forces detained the two men for more than 50 hours without allowing them contact with the outside world, RTS said, adding that they were subjected to interrogations that sometimes lasted ten hours without a break.
RTS said they were blindfolded while being transported to different facilities, and their camera, computers, storage disks and other equipment were confiscated, and they were let go only after they signed confessions.
According to the Swiss broadcaster, the UAE officials were seeking information on whether the journalists were working for an NGO or a country besides Switzerland.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the “disproportionate treatment” of the Swiss journalists and the “practice of intimidation” which shows UAE’s “excessive mistrust of the media”, it said in a statement on Monday. RSF requested the immediate return of the reporters’ confiscated material.
Alleged human rights violations
Thousands of curious onlookers walked through the galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi as it opened to the public on Saturday, ending a decade-long wait. The inauguration on Wednesday drew Arab leaders and kings, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron.
During construction, the project faced criticism over labour conditions. A worker was killed in an accident in 2015, while another died of “natural causes” in 2016, according to Abu Dhabi authorities.
A 2015 Human Rights Watch reportexternal link said the construction of the museum had been tainted with controversies and violations of the human rights of migrant workers on the construction site. Migrant workers make up approximately 90% of the private workforce in the United Arab Emirates.
Human Rights Watch says legislation aimed at protecting the rights of migrant workers has recently been enacted. However, it “remains extremely difficult to assess the impact of these laws on migrant workers’ lives and on their working conditions. The crackdown on civil society is so severe that activists have been silenced and few workers dare voice their concerns”, Bénédicte Jeannerod from Human Rights Watch France wrote in a blog postexternal link earlier this month.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/sb