The French journalists arrested while filming an anti-Adani protest this year have claimed in a documentary the Queensland police had them “under surveillance” and sought to repeatedly block filming near Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal.
In the documentary Sur le Front des Océans, which aired on public television network France 2 this week, journalist Hugo Clément detailed how police acted to prevent the crew hiring a boat to obtain footage of Abbot Point from the sea.
The crew was arrested on 22 July while filming a protest outside the Adani-owned coal terminal. Charges of “trespassing on a railway” were eventually dropped amid public outcry and an intervention by the French ambassador, but Clément and three others were given restrictive bail conditions banning them from going near Adani sites.
Those bail conditions were branded an abuse of power and attempts by police to shield corporate interests.
In the documentary, Clément details how after being banned from coming within 100m of Abbot Point, and unable to see the terminal from that distance, the crew booked a private charter boat with the intent to film from offshore.
When they arrived at the marina in Bowen, the boat owner tells a stunned Clément: “The police rang me and said they think you’re with the protests for Adani, and I don’t want my boat involved.”
Clément appeared stunned that police had known specific details about their plans.
“It’s incredible,” he said in the documentary. “It means we were under surveillance, that they were doing everything to prevent us doing our job.
“We hired another boat … the same thing. We got a text message from the boat hire people. The guy told me ‘the police have contacted me and I had to say I won’t take them.’”
“On top of that, they created a new exclusion zone. The authorities set up a new exclusion zone around the port, especially for us, starting the day of our arrest and ending the day we left Australia, to stop us from approaching the port.
“So we couldn’t even get to this coal infrastructure from the sea.”
Clément suggested on Twitter that the image of the coal terminal, which sits on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area, was restricted by authorities because it was “a huge black spot, which spoils the Australian postcard”.
Guardian Australia asked Queensland police to respond to the claims they had surveilled the journalists, and if they thought it was appropriate to do so. Police did not directly or otherwise address those questions.
“The QPS does not tolerate unlawful activity which poses safety risks to individuals or the disruption of operations being lawfully undertaken by businesses,” police said in a statement.
“The QPS continues to monitor protest activity across the Bowen, Collinsville and Clermont areas.
“Any arrangements regarding the charter of vessels by operators to members of the public are at the discretion of the individuals involved and without the influence of police.”
But the revelations will raise further concerns that the actions of police were inappropriate.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for journalists, has previously been critical of police actions in relation to the journalists.
“Creating such an exclusion zone is unreasonable,” MEAA media section president Marcus Strom said earlier this year.
“When journalists are prevented from carrying out legitimate news reporting in the public interest it raises questions about why the public’s right to know is being impeded.
“It is egregious that journalists should be subject to a total exclusion zone that curtails their right to report and only further infringes on the public’s right to know.
“At a time when Australia’s reputation as a nation that upholds press freedom is already damaged, the actions of Queensland police have only gone to attract more unwelcome attention. The actions of Queensland police were heavy-handed and unworthy of a healthy functioning democracy that upholds press freedom.”