A 60 Minutes TV crew, including Channel Nine reporter Liam Bartlett, have been detained in a hotel on the Pacific island archipelago of Kiribati after they arrived in the country without appropriate media permits.
Bartlett and the crew were reportedly there to film a story about last month’s decision by the Kiribatian government to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with China.
Ioera Simon, who works at the front desk of the hotel where the crew were being detained in Tarawa, said that immigration officials showed up at the hotel yesterday morning and two officials were stationed outside the rooms where the crew were staying.
The group were allowed to leave their rooms, but not the grounds of the hotel, she said.
“They are allowed to leave [their rooms] for food,” Simon said. “They are kept in the hotel. They seem all right. A bit upset, but OK.”
The group had been asked to remain in their hotel after they arrived in the country without appropriate media permits and had made false declarations on their arrival cards, saying they were in the country for “meetings,” a Kiribatian immigration official said.
The official who asked not to be named, as he was not speaking on behalf of the immigration department, said that the crew was “intercepted” on Tuesday morning while filming at the closed Taiwanese commission.
“This is a clear deliberate breach and undermining of the Kiribati immigration laws,” he said. “This shows that this group is not a very good media or journalist group. They pursue their own plans without checking with the proper office concerned that they had permits.”
“Plus they didn’t tell the truth upon arrival, that’s the reason why we asked them to return to the hotel,” he said.
The official said that while the group had made contact with the Kiribatian Office of the President before arrival and had been sent the application for a media permit to enter the country for reporting purposes, they had not sent it back to the office and therefore had not been approved to enter the country.
In a statement, Channel Nine disputed this version of events, saying: “The 60 Minutes crew traveled to Kiribati on Monday. Before leaving, they submitted applications for filming approval. On arrival they arranged a meeting with authorities including the executive assistant of the president and a senior representative of the immigration department to discuss the application. Further forms were submitted and a request was made for expedited approval.”
“That request was declined this morning and the 60 Minutes team were asked to remain in their hotel until the next flight out, which was their scheduled departure flight,” Channel Nine said.
The immigration official said that despite their infraction, the group had not received any penalty except the request not to leave the hotel until their departure.
“There’s no deportation, we don’t lock them up in an immigration holding cell, they just relax at the hotel,” he said.
Two immigration officials were stationed at the hotel to prevent the crew from leaving, the official said, adding that earlier yesterday the crew had tried to leave the hotel and had been asked to return by the officials.
The crew had had visitors and he suspected they were trying to make a documentary from inside the hotel, the official said.
“We never experienced a media group like this, with these people undermining the authorities, talking back to them, teaching us our history and how to run this country, and they have no verification and no rights to come here,” he said.
The Pacific Islands News Association, the leading regional news organization, issued a statement saying that it was “concerned” by reports of the detention of the Australian crew and were carrying out an investigation through its own media partners on the ground in Kiribati.
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