British Journalist Attacked and Arrested While Covering Namibian Seal Hunt

LONDON (RPRN) 7/20/2009–A British investigative journalist and his South African cameraman have today been violently assaulted by seal hunters and arrested by police while documenting the controversial Namibian seal hunt. The incident happened in the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, Western Namibia.

The investigators, working with Bont voor dieren, a Dutch charity and World Society for the Protection of Animals’ (WSPA) member society, were reportedly attacked this morning by a group of seal hunters armed with clubs.

The team were filming the killing of seals for about 20 minutes before a group of hunters approached and assaulted them, reportedly punching them to the ground and hitting them with clubs.

“The horrific violence of the Namibian seal hunt today reached a whole new level. The sealers know how the world will react to these hunts and are clearly prepared to go to any lengths to keep this brutal industry from public view,” said Claire Bass of WSPA. “There can be no justifcation for a clubbing attack against investigators whose only weapon is a camera.”

Their cameras and video footage were also seized in the incident, which happened at about 7am this morning. Police subsequently arrived before arresting the pair on suspicion of trespass and obstruction.

Claudia Linssen of Bont voor Dieren said, “Bont voor Dieren urges the Namibian government to release our investigators and arrest the attackers.”

The reporters – identified as Jim Wickens, a reporter with the Brighton-based Ecostorm investigation agency, and Bart Smithers, a freelance cameraman - revealed that a seal hunter again attacked them while they were being held in a police vehicle.

They are currently being held at a local police station and the British Consulate is working to secure their release.

WSPA has repeatedly condemned the extreme cruelty of the Namibian hunt for more than 90,000 fur seals, including some 85,000 pups. Previous footage of the hunts shows bloodied pups left writhing in agony after being clubbed and left to slowly die.

The seals are hunted for skins, fur and meat, and seal genitals are sold as traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs in Asia.

Andrew Wasley, co-director of Ecostorm, concluded, “Clearly this was a violent and unwarranted attack on two journalists doing their job – gathering information and pictures of the highly secretive Namibian seal hunt. As well as calling for the immediate release of Jim Wickens and Bart Smithers we want the Namibian authorities to investigate the assaults and theft of equipment.”

WSPA has worked successfully with Ecostorm on several animal welfare issues over the last few years.

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Media Contacts:

Claire Bass WSPA  – +44 (0) 7709 326008 clairebass@wspa-international.org

Andrew Wasley (Ecostorm)  +44 (0)7977 239406 info@eco-storm.com
www.eco-storm.com