Namibia Shielding Pitt and Jolie
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 4:01 PM
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have an entire government on their side in the latest celebrity vs. paparazzi skirmish as they await the birth of their child in seclusion at a resort in Namibia.
The Namibian Embassy in Pretoria tells journalists seeking visas for Namibia to cover the birth of the eagerly awaited celebrity baby that they must have permission from Pitt and Jolie in writing before they will be allowed into the country.
The government, which has seen its profile as a tourist destination increased by the celebrity visit, has arrested photographers, confiscated film, set up large green barriers on the beach to shield the couple and their children Zahara and Maddox, ringed the hotel with heavy security and threatened to expel any journalist trying to cover the birth without the parents' permission.
"This lady is expecting," Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula was quoted as telling South Africa's Sunday Times last month. "You guys are harassing her. Why don't you allow her some privacy? Harassment is not allowed in Namibia."
Interest has heightened in recent weeks as photographers anticipated the due date was near. It escalated Tuesday when an e-mail Pitt sent to the Cannes Film Festival and read to reporters there said he was unable to attend because of the baby's "imminent arrival."
Darryn Lyons, the chairman of Big Pictures, which runs Mr. Paparazzi.com, said in London that the two stars are certain to gain more attention by taking up residence in a poor corner of Africa then they would in the United States.
"I don't think they could have given the people more of an appetite to see the new creature," said Lyons, referring to the decision to hole up in Namibia. "It is the most anticipated baby since Jesus Christ."
"They would have been more discreet sitting in Malibu," he said. "I don't know why they're going to all this ridiculous trouble."
Before Pitt and Jolie took up residence at a luxury hotel on the Namibian coast, the government never required that journalists get permission from private citizens _ foreign or otherwise _ to obtain a visa.
John Liebengerg, a South African magazine photographer, was arrested Wednesday for a second time in less than a week for trying to take pictures of the couple at a restaurant.
The arrest was condemned by the South African National Editors Forum.
"The forum believes citizens have a right to privacy, however journalists also have a right to be able to do their jobs without unfair hindrance or intimidation," the forum said in a statement.
South Africa's Sunday Times said last month its own photographer and three French photographers were ordered to leave Namibia or face arrest.
Lyons said he has a team in place in Namibia, but that none of his photographers have been arrested. He added someone _ perhaps even the midwife _ with a small camera or one built into their mobile phone stood to make a lot of money.
"You could probably buy Namibia with that picture," he said, estimating the first picture of Pitt and Jolie's baby would be worth $5 million.
Namibia, a country half the size of Alaska, is rich in diamonds and strategic metals, but most of its 1.8 million people are poor.
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.