Nauru's government has banned all journalists from reporting from the country in a move likely to heighten concern about refugees being held on the island state.
Last year, the Nauruan government said it was increasing the application fee for journalist visas from AUD 200 ($145) to a non-refundable AUD 8,000 ($5,821) per person.
But when Al Jazeera tried to apply, the networks was told "all media application [sic] is not approved".
For some months, Al Jazeera has been emailing and phoning Nauru about the official process for a correspondent and cameraman to apply to visit the country. Most email messages and phone calls went unanswered.
But on Wednesday, producer Alice Mulheron in the network's Sydney bureau was able to talk briefly to Darlene Dabana in Nauru's migration office.
She told Mulheron to ask employees to fill in a business visa form, and send her copies of passports. She said once those were received, she'd send an invoice for AUD 8,000 ($5,821) per person.
However, on Thursday morning - before those forms were completed and emailed to Nauru - Al Jazeera received an email saying "Media visa is not approved".
When Al Jazeera asked for clarification, the response from Dabana was: "I have been informed that all media application [sic] is not approved."
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Al Jazeera asked, further:
- Who specifically has informed you that "all media application is not approved"?
- Is there any point in us submitting our visa application forms now, as we had planned to?
- To confirm, are there any circumstances in which a media visa would be approved, and if so what?
- Does this amount to a ban on journalists visiting Nauru under all circumstances?
That email has not been answered. On Thursday, a phone call was answered, but immediately hung up on. On Friday, phone calls were being answered by voicemail - and messages were not returned.
"It's interesting that Nauru would be so blatant. Clearly they won't allow anybody there to actually look for themselves and make an independent assessment about what's going on," Graham Thom of Amnestry Australia said.
"It's not surprising they won't let people go, but it is scary that Australia is funding an independent country to detain people, to house people, and won't allow any independent scrutiny of those centres," Thom added.
Thom said that if the centres were open, people should have been allowed to talk to journalists.
"It's frightening to think that journalists and others are being blocked - deliberately blocked - from going to Nauru. This is really telling when we're looking at the conditions currently for people on Nauru and the allegations we’re hearing the mistreatment of women and treatment on Nauru."
Source: Al Jazeera