Home Ministry of affairs Minister Chris Hipkins admits making incorrect claims about journalist Charlotte Bellis

Minister Chris Hipkins admits making incorrect claims about journalist Charlotte Bellis

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Minister Chris Hipkins has admitted publishing incorrect and personal information about journalist Charlotte Bellis, after criticizing the managed isolation system.

Bellis, a former Al Jazeera reporter, sought to return to New Zealand in January after finding out she was pregnant.

Because she was living in Qatar, where it is illegal to be single and pregnant, she applied for an emergency allowance under the managed isolation system that was operating at the time, but was refused.

The journalist made headlines when she went public with her frustrations with the government-run isolation system, saying that because of the situation she needed to seek a promise of safe haven from the Taliban in Afghanistan, where she worked.

New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis.

Jim Huylebroek/Supplied

New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis.

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Under mounting public pressure, Hipkins, who was Covid-19 minister at the time, cast doubt on Bellis’ story saying she had been offered consular assistance twice since early December 2021 but did not respond to offers.

It is understood Hipkins’ public apology was a request from Bellis’ attorneys. After Hipkins privately admitted wrongdoing to Bellis in March, his lawyers sought an apology instead of pursuing a legal settlement for defamation and invasion of privacy.

On Wednesday morning, Hipkins released a statement saying he had apologized to Bellis in a March 15 letter for “errors in my comments and the inclusion of personal information in the statement and for the distress it caused him. caused”.

“I was later informed that those comments were not accurate,” he said.

Minister Chris Hipkins apologized to journalist Charlotte Bellis.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Minister Chris Hipkins apologized to journalist Charlotte Bellis.

Advice provided to Hipkins by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, obtained under the Official Information Act by National Party Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop, showed officials briefed him that details of the government’s earlier contact with Bellis were “not intended for the public.”

Hipkins made the information public within hours.

“Ms. Bellis was contacted once in August and once in December while she was in Europe. In August, she was not pregnant and indicated she did not need any assistance,” Hipkins said Wednesday.

“In December, she was not in Afghanistan and this followed the government’s announcement that the border would reopen to New Zealand citizens in February, when she planned to return before the birth of her child.

“Ms. Bellis had never been offered, nor ever refused, an MIQ [managed isolation] place.”

He said his emergency request for a managed isolation place had been “disabled … by mistake”.

Bellis, in a statement, said she welcomed Hipkins’ apology and thanked him “for correcting the inaccurate comments he made.”

“The inaccurate information that the minister gave to the media has caused confusion among the public and led to unwarranted verbal abuse towards myself and my partner Jim.”

She said the couple stood by their decision to speak out about the managed isolation system “which was no longer fit for purpose and was negatively affecting so many New Zealand families”.

Bellis and her partner Jim Huylebroek were granted a place in the managed isolation system in February, and earlier this month Bellis gave birth to their daughter in Christchurch.

“We can’t wait to put this behind us and enjoy a new chapter with our daughter.”

Bishop, who has been critical of Hipkins’ actions throughout the sage, said the minister was right to apologize.

The managed isolation system has since been closed and quarantine requirements for people entering New Zealand have ended.