Reporter Serge Enderlin and cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson were held in isolation for more than 50 hours and were subjected to long interrogation sessions after their arrest on 9 November while filming in an open-air market in a neighborhood when tens of thousands of Pakistani immigrant workers live.
They had gone to the capital of the United Arab Emirates to cover the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s inauguration for “Mise au Point,” a programme on one of the channels of Swiss public broadcaster RTS.
The journalists said that, after being placed in isolation, they were repeatedly taken to different locations for long interrogation sessions lasting up to ten hours. Each time they were transported blindfolded.
After what Enderlin called “a war of nerves,” they were forced to provide the access codes to their smartphones and to sign confessions in Arabic “on anything and everything” in order to obtain their release.
“We firmly condemn the disproportionate reaction from the authorities to two foreign journalists who were just doing their job," said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“The arrest and prolonged detention of these journalists and above all the extraction of confessions constitute intimidation and reflect an excessive mistrust of media seeking to cover sensitive stories. We also call on the authorities to immediately return the equipment confiscated at the time of their arrest."
The two journalists were able to return to Switzerland after being released during the night of 11 November but had to leave behind all the confiscated equipment – a camera, a computer and hard disks.
The RTS crew was accredited for the Louvre Abu Dhabi opening but their request for permission to film in other parts of the city was still being processed at the time of their arrest. It was their filming of Pakistani immigrant workers that upset the authorities.
During the interrogation, the police wanted to known their motives for making this report and whether they were cooperating with NGOs or with other countries. The poor conditions of immigrant workers are off-limits for the media in the UAE, above all because of the critical coverage it has received from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch.