24 Apr 2012

Channel 4 News team ‘not mistreated’

After a Channel 4 News team is deported from Bahrain, a Bahrain government spokesman denies there was any mistreatment and says the kingdom is “in a much better position than last year”.

Jonathan Miller, cameraman Joe Sheffer, and producer Dave Fuller, were arrested on Sunday alongside their driver, Ali, and activist Dr Ala’a Shehaba while filming a small demonstration in a village.

Authorities in Bahrain released the group several hours later. The Channel 4 News team was driven to Bahrain airport at “breakneck” speed in a police van to be deported back to the UK, according to Jonathan Miller.

After British Airways staff initially refused them permission to board an aircraft because the group’s “documentation [was] not in order”, Jonathan Miller said, they were flown back on another plane early the following morning.

Dr Shehaba, an economics lecturer, was released some seven hours after she was taken into custody.

“OK… Channel 4 three finally being deported aboard a non-British airline,” Miller tweeted as he was due to leave. “Goodbye Bahrain. I met some lovely people but not many were cops.”

A spokesperson for Channel 4 News said: “We are pleased to confirm that our team is safe and on their way back to the UK. We also have confirmation that the team’s driver – who they saw assaulted by Bahraini authorities, and human rights activist, Dr Ala’a Shehabi, have also been released.”

The team’s trip to the Gulf nation co-incided with the grand prix – the target of violent protests in the run up to the event. Amid heavy security, the event passed off with skirmishes and a number of arrests, after activists were denied entry to a zone surrounding the circuit.

‘Without accreditation’

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a Bahrain government spokesman, told Jon Snow that “for Channel 4 to come into the country undercover, and to bring in their equipment, and to operate without accreditation, is not only unprofessional, but then you go about with a political activist into remote parts of the country. And you expect us to think that you can have a balanced coverage!”

If there has been any mistreatment of any form, please bring forward your team and let them say it online, on the camera. Sheik Abdul-Aziz

He continued: “We did not invite you in for the Formula 1. We said before or after – and you never accepted our invitation back in February.”

Sheik Aziz said that if any member of the Channel 4 News team had been mistreated, the person responsible for the mistreatment would be charged. He rejected Jon Snow’s suggestion that the team’s driver had been mistreated. “He has come forward and said he hasn’t been mistreated,” Sheik Aziz said.

“If there has been any mistreatment of any form, please bring forward your team and let them say it online, on the camera.”

He concluded: “The vast majority of the people of Bahrain are moving forward and have welcomed the race and that it was a great success. So besides the extremists who are against the Formula 1, or who have their own views on how political reform should be taken forward, then we are in a much better position than we were last year.”

Police brutality

Explaining the circumstances leading up to the arrest, Jonathan Miller said that they had been operating without official accreditation.

He said: “So when we were caught filming a planned demonstration in one of the Shia villages, they have not been particularly pleasant. They’ve been very aggressive towards me, my crew and driver and Dr Ala’a Shehabi, a prominent human rights activist.

“We were actually heading back to where we were staying to edit the piece we’d compiled for tonight – we’d met villagers in a Shia suburb off the main city, who were demonstrating night after night.”

Fears quickly grew for the fate of the driver, who was violently attacked by police before being taken away separately. The channel’s head of foreign news, Ben de Pear, has urged Britain’s foreign secretary to raise the way in which he was treated with Bahrain.

Responding to a tweet from the minister, who had expressed concern over the fate of the team, he said: “The police treated the driver badly. I trust these are issues brought up in consultations.”