Swiss Journalists Detained in Abu Dhabi
Last Thursday two journalists working for the Swiss broadcaster RTS were detained by UAE authorities for two days whilst covering the opening of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. Cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson and journalist Serge Enderlin were arrested as they were taking pictures in an open-air market in Abu Dhabi.
According to the Swiss channel, they went on to be detained by UAE security officials for over 50 hours. During this period, they had no contact with the outside world and were interrogated for stretches of up to 10 hours with no break. They were blindfolded by authorities and taken to different facilities and their computers, storage disks, and cameras were confiscated.
Speaking on the ordeal to the RTS broadcaster, Jon Bjorgvinsson said: “We were separated, our phones and watches confiscated, and were put in total isolation... They never hurt us, but their interrogations were tough and took a very long time.”
According to the broadcaster, Abu Dhabi authorities wanted to know why the journalists were taking photos of the market and were also unhappy about the Swiss news channel's coverage of the issue of migrant workers in the UAE.
After being held for over two days, the two journalists were forced to sign a confession in Arabic, a language they didn't understand, and then released.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, journalist Serge Enderlin said: “All we wanted to do was put the opening of the Louvre in a wider context-as a flip-side to the glitz of the museum we wanted to show the migrant workers who actually built it... What was especially bothersome.. [about the detention].... was the lengths of the procedures and the extreme intimidation”
In a press release issued by the Swiss broadcaster RTS, director of the channel, Pascal Cretan said:
“RTS condemns the press freedom violations against the journalists”
This case must be seen in a wider context regarding heavy curtailments around freedom of speech and assembly and issues of arbitrary detention in the UAE. Journalists in the UAE, such as Tayseer al-Najar are regularly detained, disappeared, and in some cases tortured, by authorities for publicly airing views that counter those of the state. Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, Emirati authorities have cracked down heavily on dissenting voices within their borders; this has disproportionately affected journalists who refuse to self-censor their work.