HC Deb 05 May 1977 vol 931 cc651-2

Mr. Churchill (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about the position of the journalist, Mr. Colin Smith, lately arrested by the authorities in Zaire, in view of the threat to his life.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

Mr. Smith was detained by the Zairian authorities on 27th April, after crossing the border apparently from Zambia in company with a Spanish television crew. He was visited in Kolwezi Prison yesterday by our honorary consular representative in Lubumbashi, who reports him to be well fed and in good spirits.

Our ambassador in Kinshasa has taken up Mr. Smith's case with the Zairian authorities. His reports indicate that there is now no threat to Mr. Smith's life. It also now seems unlikely that the Press conference, at which he and others also arrested were to appear, will be held in Kinshasa as previously announced. The ambassador is keeping in close touch with us.

Mr. Churchill

I express my gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for his statement. The family of Mr. Colin Smith and his colleagues, as well as many other people in this country, will be relieved to learn that there is no longer any threat to his life.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that we in this House appreciate the difficulties of the situation facing the Government of the Republic of Zaire, following the invasion of their country by forces backed from Angola and by the Soviet Union, and that in the confused situation, particularly in Shaba Province, it is not easy for foreign journalists to operate?

Is the Foreign Secretary further aware that Mr. Colin Smith is a most distinguished correspondent of the Observer newspaper, and that he was in 1974 selected as the international journalist of the year and has a high reputation in this country? It is clear that he was acting in his capacity of bona fide journalist and correspondent and not in any way from an ulterior political motivation. Will the Foreign Secretary do all in his power to bring the facts to the attention of the Zairian authorities and seek the early release of Mr. Smith and his fellow journalists?

Dr. Owen

I will certainly do what I have been requested to do. I will keep in close personal touch with the situation. I hope that this message has brought some reassurance to Mr. Smith's family and colleagues. There is a complex and confused situation in Shaba Province. I recognise that there was no evidence of any motive by Mr. Smith other than that of reporting events. I am sure that the Zairian authorities, with whom we have good and close relations, will understand that and will deal with the matter as fairly and expeditiously as they can.