In Namibia seal hunt, journalists said to become prey

By Tom Rhodes/Africa Program Coordinator on July 17, 2009 4:56 PM ET

July marks the start of seal hunting season in Namibia, where hunters will be allowed to kill more than 90,000 seals. British journalist Jim Wickens and South African cameraman Bart Smithers filmed the event near Cape Cross Colony on Thursday morning for a British advocacy organization, Ecostorm. That is, until the journalists became the hunted.

Facing pressure from environmental and animal welfare groups, seal hunting in Namibia is a clandestine affair, often done in the early hours to avoid tourists and other witnesses. Prying eyes were not welcome on Thursday. Less than 20 minutes after filming began, hunters allegedly turned their clubs on the journalists. Ecostorm and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) allege that hunters attacked Wickens and Smithers and seized their equipment.

Police were quick to make arrests ... of the two journalists. A WSPA press release alleges that one hunter attacked Wickens and Smithers even as the two were being held in a police van.

A court in Swakopmund convicted the journalists today on charges of entering a protected marine area without a permit, fined them US$1,200 apiece, and imposed six-month suspended sentences, The Associated Press reported. No hunters were arrested.

So there, apparently, is the legal standard: The marine area needs protection from cameras. Journalists (not to mention seals) are not afforded protection from clubs.

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