The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today called on Swiss authorities to issue a statement apologizing for the unjustified detention last week of a freelance photojournalist by police officers at Zurich Airport.
In a letter to the Minister of Security Affairs of the Canton of Zurich, Mario Fehr, who oversees Zurich Cantonal Police, IPI Executive Board President Markus Spillmann said the detention of photojournalist Claudio M as he was taking video footage of the arrival of the King of Thailand’s plane from a public area constituted a clear breach of his rights.
Spillmann urged Mr Fehr to clarify the reason the photojournalist was detained and to publicly affirm that the airport division of Zurich Cantonal Police are bound to uphold the Swiss constitutional right of press freedom.
Read the full text of the letter.
Mr. Mario Fehr,
Minister of Security Affairs of the Canton of Zurich
On behalf of the members of the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, I would like to express our serious concerns over the unjustified detention last week of a freelance photojournalist by police officers at Zurich Airport.
On April 7, photojournalist Claudio M. was standing in a public area inside Zurich airport taking photographs of the Thai Airways jet carrying the Thai king Maha Vajiralongkorn as it arrived from Bangkok, when he was approached by six police officers working for the airport division of Zurich Cantonal Police.
Mr M. had been commissioned by Hamburg-based BILD newspaper to take photos of the monarch’s arrival as part of a story on his frequent travel between the two countries during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, before the journalist could complete his assignment, he was questioned about his presence at the viewing window.
Mr M assured the officers he was a journalist and offered to produce press identification as proof. However, without attempting to check his press card, officers handcuffed him and then, despite pleas he was in pain roughly escorted him from the area without proper explanation. Video footage of the incident published later shows officers using unnecessary force.
He was then taken to a room and interrogated by officers, who made several allegations against him. In a serious breach of privacy, his camera was also thoroughly searched. We consider these actions to be a serious violation of media freedom and the rights of the photojournalist to carry out his work.
Most worryingly, Mr M. reported that he was told by officers that his detention had been triggered by a request by the entourage of the Thai king, who has faced criticism over his frequent visits during the pandemic. The royal’s security team has a long history of preventing media from photographing the monarch. IPI has often criticized the excessive restrictions imposed on journalists in Thailand aimed at granting the king and other members of the royal family special protections from the media, which are in breach of international press freedom standards.
In Switzerland, however, the legal system upholds the right of media professionals to take photographs of individuals in the public interest. Unfortunately, on this occasion it appears that the Zurich Cantonal Police were more willing to shield a visiting dignitary from criticism, than to uphold the rights enshrined in the Swiss constitution.
Despite the unjustified detention, we are also concerned to see that Zurich Cantonal Police have not yet issued a public apology to Mr M. Instead, a statement was made suggesting he had falsely claimed to be a media worker.
We strongly urge you to clarify the reason Mr M was detained and to publicly affirm that the airport division of Zurich Cantonal Police are bound to uphold the Swiss constitutional right of press freedom.
We thank you in advance for taking our concerns into consideration and look forward to seeing your response.
President of the Executive Board
International Press Institute