SYDNEY – Australia has received an onslaught of fresh criticism over the lack of press freedom in the country after the arrest of a French journalist who was covering a protest against one of the largest coal mines in the world.
Hugo Clement, of the French public TV channel France 2, and two members of his team were filming a group of demonstrators who were protesting and attempting to block a railway line that leads to a coal terminal of the Adani Group at the Abbot Point deep-water coal port near Bowen, in northeastern Queensland, when they were detained without prior explanations, the journalist said.
The journalists were later released on bail and on the condition that they should not come within 200 meters of the Indian corporation’s facilities after the protesters were accused of breaking and entering and summoned to appear before an Australian court on Sept. 3.
Reporters Without Borders urged authorities to drop these charges and called the arrests as “an unacceptable attack on investigative journalism.”
“The France 2 journalists were doing their job in a completely legal manner in a public space, so their arrest on this spurious charge was the kind of arbitrary procedure more typical of an authoritarian regime,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
In response to the arrest, the Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said on Twitter: “Journalists should be free to go about their work reporting on matters in the public interest and should not be arrested for simply doing their job.”
Clement’s arrest while working on a documentary series about the world’s oceans comes less than two months after police raids on the home of a journalist in Canberra and on the headquarters of Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC in Sydney.
Australia is ranked 21st on the list of 180 countries in RSF’S 2019 World Press Freedom Index, two places down from the 2018 index.