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Sri Lanka deports British journalist

[TamilNet, Saturday, 18 April 2009 07:52 No Comment]

Jeremy Page, reporter for the British paper, The Times, was escorted to the detention room on arrival at the Katunayake International Airport last week, locked up for the night, and deported to the UK the next day, says Page in an article in Timesonline. He was denied a journalist’s visa for Sri Lanka since August despite multiple applications, and he was identified and deported when he tried to enter Sri Lanka on a tourist visa. "I know why I’m blacklisted: the Government [of Sri Lanka] thinks, or pretends to think, that I support the Tigers. That is nonsense. I have no personal connection to either side of this 26-year civil war," writes Page.

"For almost two years, the Government has prevented most independent reporters from getting anywhere near the fighting, taking only a hand-picked few on day trips arranged by the army since January," Page says on the censorship of free media in Sri Lanka.

Comparing the danger local journalists face in Sri Lanka to what he experienced in other parts of the world where he has covered violent conflicts, Page writes, "I regularly interview members of the Taleban in Afghanistan. In Russia, I reported on both sides of the Chechen conflict. In China, I interviewed dissidents and Tibetan independence activists. To do the equivalent in Sri Lanka, however, is not only forbidden: it is highly dangerous if you are a local reporter."

Page cites two specific articles which he thinks might have irked the Government of Sri Lanka.
In a February 13, 2009 piece on "Barbed wire villages raise fears of refugee concentration camps" he said the Government denounced him in a news conference for seeking the reaction from "representatives of the Tamil community (and one MEP with an interest in Sri Lanka), several of whom likened the plans to concentration camps."

Page adds, "[b]ut the most surreal response came in a letter from Rajiva Wijesinha, the head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat, who accused me of sensationalising the use of barbed wire in the camps. "Unfortunately, a man from a cold climate does not realize that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views," Mr Wjesinghe wrote, Page says.

The second story that may have angered Colombo, Page cites, is January 17, 2009 "Lasantha Wickrematunga – Sri Lanka’s hero editor," the Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader editor who was murdered in January.

"He left behind a partly-written obituary in which he accused the Government of assassinating him because of his criticism of the war. The Government denies this, but has yet to catch those who murdered him? or the 14 other media workers killed in Sri Lanka since 2006," Page writes.

[Full Coverage]

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