Cell B-24: kidnapped by the Dutch State?
Asylum seeker Ernest Ayodele Mason is afraid he will be left to rot, silently, in a prison known as a "detainees centre" in Tilburg. Mindy Ran went to see him.
The first locked gate was a high metal fence at the beginning of a long concrete drive, which lead to the second barrier. That door too was locked and led to the glassed-in waiting room. There were three plastic chairs, several people standing, and a prison officer behind the glass.
Journalist Ernest Mason faces jail if he is sent back to Sierra Leone
After clearing a metal detector, another locked door opened and the names of the prisoners were read out. We were led into a long, tunnel shaped hallway. At the end of the corridor was an open door into a room that had about ten small tables scattered around. Mason was seated at a table in front of two guards.
He had been advised by his lawyer not to speak to the press because the Minister for Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk, has threatened to publish information about deportees who speak to journalists.
The minister has been infuriated by what she sees is biased reporting in the media.
But, Mason is not afraid of what Verdonk may say about him. This is his story as I remember it and as far as we have been able to confirm it.
Mason worked as a journalist/producer for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services (SLBS) in the West African state from 1994 to 1998. He produced a 30-minute current affairs programme called "The Latest". In May 1997, according to Mason's story, he was put under pressure to report pro-rebel propaganda around the time of the coup that ousted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
Mason says he tried to toe the line, but fled Sierra Leone in September 1998 when he received word that his name was on hit list for untrustworthy journalists.
He went to Ghana, stowed away on a boat, and arrived in the Netherlands on 22 September 1998. He immediately announced himself as an asylum seeker in need of a safe haven.
*quote1*A ministry spokesperson confirmed the request was handled under the accelerated procedure, which meant he had 48 hours to prove his case. It was denied. Mason had only his ID badge from the station to prove his story. According to him, the IND did not believe he was a journalist and therefore at risk.
The International News Safety Institute (INSI) reports that in 1999, within a few months of Mason fleeing, nine journalists were murdered in Sierra Leone by the RUF rebels.
When asked about Mason, Verdonk's spokesperson refused to discuss individual cases, simply stating that in his opinion "the authorities must have had a good reason to refuse him asylum".
Decisions made by the immigration authority IND are not infallible. There is the case of the Somalia asylum seeker who was murdered after he was deported from the Netherlands. The IND is currently in trouble in Parliament over its decision to deport an Algerian journalist. He was promptly arrested on his arrival in Algeria.
Mason was sent to an asylum seekers centre and appealed the decision not to grant him asylum. At that time, if you had friends or family in the country you were allowed to stay with them while waiting for your appeal, as long as you reported to the police once a week. Mason had a friend from Sierra Leone in Eindhoven.
Sanctuary? One of the cells for asylum detainees opened at PI Tilburg in 1999
However, proving he was a journalist was not the problem with his appeal. The problem, and all others that have followed, was the result of an altercation with a member of the Foreign Police, or Vreemdelingpolitie.
As required, Mason reported once a week to get his stamp. According to Mason, he once arrived very early at the asylum seekers centre (AZC) in Helmond and was at the front of what would become a very long line. There was