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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Namibia Seal Hunt Filmers, Jim Wickens And Bart Smithers, Convicted Of Trespassing


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JOHANNESBURG — Two foreign journalists who were arrested in Namibia while filming the clubbing of seals were convicted Friday of entering a protected marine area without a permit.

British journalist Jim Wickens and his South African cameraman, Bart Smithers, appeared in a magistrates court in the coastal town of Swakopmund.

They were given the choice of 12 months in jail or a fine of 10,000 Namibian dollars each (about $1,200), along with a six-month suspended sentence, said Namibian police spokesman Angula Amulungu.

Their employer, the British investigative agency Ecostorm, has agreed to pay the fine, said spokesman Andrew Wasley.

In a matter the court did not consider, Wasley said the two men allege that the sealers attacked them.

The men were in Namibia to produce a documentary on the controversial seal hunt, which animal activists say is barbaric and outdated. Wasley said that Wickens and Smithers were filming near Namibia's Cape Cross Colony, on the isolated northern coast of the country on Thursday morning when sealers assaulted them.

"They were chased and attacked with the clubs used to kill the seals," Wasley said of the journalists.

Police arrived and arrested the journalists, who were detained for several hours in the town of Henties Bay before being released on bail. The attackers remain at large.

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Namibia's seals number about 850,000 and live on a dozen remote, rocky islands off the coast of the sparsely populated southern African country.

More than 90,000 seals will be clubbed to death during the annual sealing season, which started in early July.

The hunt takes place under clandestine circumstances to avoid the glare of publicity – and to avoid upsetting tourists.

The government has said seals consume 900,000 tons of fish each year, more than a third of the fishing industry's catch, and that the cull is needed to protect fisheries.

Animal welfare groups counter that most of the seals killed are nursing pups.

Wasley said journalists' experience would draw more attention to the Namibian seal hunt, usually overshadowed by its more publicized Canadian counterpart.

"A lot of people aren't aware of its existence," he said. "This will put a spotlight on Namibia."


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