Commentary: Czech media spread panic about asylum-seeker "uprising", ignore human rights issues
Last Thursday evening the Czech news media delivered a dramatic, exciting report claiming that asylum-seekers in a camp in Bělá pod Bezdězem had "rebelled"! Roughly 50 were said to have attempted to escape the facility!
According to the degree to which various journalists were trying to escalate their reporting of this story, they actually delayed relaying calming bits of news such as a) the situation was under control, b) police reinforcements from Prague were on the way to the camp and c) the Czech Interior Minister had been informed of the incident. The media embellished their information with strongly-worded details, reporting, for example, that "the rebellious detainees even threateningly rattled the outer fence" of the facility.
Even the Czech News Agency, which is an independent public corporation, reported on the incident as both an "escape attempt" and an "uprising". In reality, however, what happened was nothing much - or rather, nothing out of the ordinary.
Several detainees reportedly broke through two of the barriers that define the space where they are allowed to take walks at the facility and managed to reach the outer fence. They probably did not want to escape (it was not the first time they had seen the fence, after all) but they did probably want to draw attention to themselves.
The next day the Czech News Agency quoted a spokesperson for the Aliens' Police, Kateřina Rendlová, as saying the following: "Nothing happened, not last night and not this morning. It's calm there, a riot police unit is on alert. Yesterday what was agreed is that someone will discuss things with [the detainees] today. They want someone to listen to them and explain to them why they have been detained so long, they want someone to discuss their detentions with them."
The follow-up reporting also relays that "police say various forms of protests there are frequent - the asylum-seekers go on hunger strike, for example, or do their best to injure themselves because they don't want to remain in the camp and also don't want to be escorted back to the countries that they have fled." Two main things are interesting about this entire scandal.
In the first place, we in the Czech Republic have facilities where asylum-seekers are detained who are accustomed to going on hunger strike and trying to injure themselves. Is such a facility being run in accordance with our human rights obligations?
Is it essential to hold these asylum-seekers (even if they are persons awaiting deportation) in the conditions of a harsh prison? Under "normal" circumstances this is not a topic the media ever take interest in.
In the second place, if a detainee had damaged barriers at that facility a year ago, it is more than likely that no journalist would have even bothered to report it. Before the beginning of the current crisis, as the Czech media is portraying issues around asylum-seeker reception today, no one would have cared.
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