In a letter addressed to the Southern State Police minister Robert Lawrence Brokenshire (South Australia), Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders-RSF) protested against the decision made by civil defence agents, on January 26, to ban the presence of journalists within one kilometre around Woomera detention centre.
"The authorities are scandalously preventing journalists from working under the false excuse of protecting asylum seekers", declared Robert Ménard, RSF general secretary. "This way out designed to hide a most questionable immigration policy cannot but be condemned", he added. The organisation has asked the Police minister to lift that measure as detrimental to press freedom.
According to the information collected by RSF, some thirty journalists were sharply addressed, in the evening of 26 January 2002, by APS officers (Australian Protective Service) asking them to leave the area devoted to them under the threat of being arrested. The Australian and foreign journalists had thirty minutes to comply. While some of them were on the phone with their editorial offices, an APS Officer asked for their names and addresses. Natalie Larkins, reporter for ABC Adélaïde TV channel, was arrested and taken to Woomera police station. She was released three hours later provided she left the town at once.
Almost 370 asylum seekers are presently on hunger strike at Woomera where suicide attempts are multiplying. Whereas the local press is increasingly critical toward an immigration policy said to be "xenophobic", Immigration minister Philip Ruddock, stated on Monday on ABC radio this prohibitive measure corresponded to "an operational decision made by the civil protective services in connection with the security of the prisoners".