Los Angeles, May 22 (Reuters): Six French journalists were handcuffed, body searched and locked up before being kicked out of the US after arriving in Los Angeles to cover a video games trade show with the wrong travel documents, an international media watchdog group said yesterday.
A US immigration official confirmed that the journalists, who arrived in two groups on May 10 and May 11, had been searched, handcuffed, questioned and detained overnight in a holding cell before being put on a flight back to France.
In a letter to the US ambassador to France, Reporters Without Borders has demanded an investigation into what the organisation said appeared to be “arbitrary if not discriminatory” treatment by US authorities.
“These reporters were treated like criminals — subjected to several body searches, handcuffed, locked up and fingerprinted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Menard wrote to ambassador Howard Leach.
But an immigration department spokesman strongly denied that the journalists were singled out because they were French. He said the reporters’ treatment was routine: “They are handcuffed when transported from one area to another. They were subject to routine interrogations... we have to be careful,” he said.
“French or European reporters are not being targeted, it’s simply that these individuals lacked the proper papers to enter the US.”
Alfonsi was denied entry, and Pic and Perrot, who had passed through immigration without incident, were detained after asking airport authorities what had happened to Alfonsi.
The three were detained for 26 hours in a holding cell, where they were questioned, searched six times and fingerprinted, a Reporters Without Borders spokeswoman said.
The next afternoon, they were put on a flight to Paris.
The second group, Thierry Falcoz, editor-in-chief of Game One cable television, and his cameramen Laurent Patureau and Alex Gorsky, had a nearly identical experience when they arrived on May 11.
Falcoz and Gorsky passed through the immigration checkpoint without a problem, but Patureau was stopped for having the wrong visa. All three were detained overnight and returned to France the next day.