Six French journalists on their way to cover a video games trade fair were detained at Los Angeles airport and sent back to France after being held for more than 24 hours. Reporters Without Borders is calling for an enquiry into the incident.
Reporters Without Borders today protested against the detention of six French journalists on arrival a week ago at Los Angeles international airport to cover a video games trade show and their forcible repatriation after being held at the airport for more than 24 hours. "These journalists were treated like criminals - subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard complained in a letter to the US ambassador to Paris, Howard Leach. Ménard urged the ambassador to press for an investigation and to ensure that the journalists will have no problems the next time they travel to the United States. He also suggested that it should be clarified whether or not journalists travelling to the United States need a specific press visa. "As things stand, the decisions taken by airport security officials appear to have been arbitrary if not discriminatory," Ménard said in his letter. The six journalists arrived at Los Angeles airport in two groups a day apart. The first group consisted of Alexandre Alfonsi of Télé 7 Jours, Stéphanie Pic of Télé Poche and Michel Perrot of TV Hebdo, who arrived at 2 p.m. on 10 May without press visas. Pic and Perrot passed through immigration without any problem, but Alfonsi was denied access to US territory on the grounds that he lacked the required visa. Pic and Perrot tried in vain to find out from airport officials what had happened to their colleague. All three journalists were then detained and held for a total of 26 hours, which included a night in the cells of a US immigration detention centre. They were subjected to interrogation sessions and six body searches. They were handcuffed while being moved from one place to another, and they were fingerprinted. One official told Alfonsi he would not be able to return to the United States again. They were put on a flight for France at around 4 p.m. the next day and were not able to recover their passports until the aeroplane made a stopover in Amsterdam. The other group, which suffered an almost identical fate, consisted of Thierry Falcoz, editor in chief of Game One cable television, and two of his cameramen, Laurent Patureau and Alex Gorsky. They arrived at Los Angeles international airport at around 3 p.m. on 11 May. Falcoz and Gorsky passed through immigration without a problem but Patureau was stopped by an official who said he needed a press visa. When Patureau's two colleagues protested, all three were detained. After being held for nine hours in an airport waiting room they were taken to a US immigration detention centre where they were held overnight in a cell. They were subjected to repeated body searches and interrogation. They were handcuffed when taken from one place to another, and they were fingerprinted. Finally, they were put on a flight back to France at around 6 p.m. the next day.