Following their arrest on July 16, journalists Bart Smithers (South Africa) and Jim Wickens (United Kingdom) have been convicted of entering a protected marine area without a permit on the Namibian coast. They appeared in the magistrate's court in the coastal town of Swakopmund for their trial.
The Associated Press reports that Smithers and Wickens were each 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. Their employer, Ecostorm, has opted to pay the fine on behalf of the journalists.
Namibia enforces laws to prevent media exposure surrounding the horrific Namibian seal slaughter, rivaled only by Canada's annual seal "cull", the largest marine mammal slaughter on Earth. The journalists hope their conviction will bring attention to this issue so rarely covered in the media.
Cape seals are slaughtered on the Namibian coast annually as scapegoats for human overfishing practices and fisheries mismanagement. This is also one of Canada's proclaimed justifications for the continuation of the harp seal slaughter, now generally recognized as cruel and unnecessary.
The men were not heard in court regarding their claim that they were assaulted violently by Namibian sealers prior to their arrest.
Sealing nations have a history of turning a blind eye to violence directed at those documenting their activities. In 2005, Sea Shepherd activists documenting the harp seal slaughter in international waters off the coast of Eastern Canada were assaulted by the sealers wielding clubs. Again in 2008, Sea Shepherd activists were seized at gunpoint and deported; ship's officers Alex Cornelissen and Peter Hammarstedt were detained and later released on bail.
It is therefore not surprising that the Namibian government would side with the sealers and ignore the blatant injustice of physical violence used to oppose truth through the lens of a video camera.
Sea Shepherd commends Smithers and Wickens for their efforts to expose the Namibian seal slaughter.