Colombo on “witch hunt” against local journalists, says deported IFJ Director

The Asia-Pacific Director of the reputed global media watchdog, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Ms Jacqui Park, who was arrested, detained for two days in house arrest at Hotel Galadari together with her colleague Ms Jean Worthington and kicked out of the island by the Sri Lankan regime on Friday, described Colombo’s officials of conducting a systematic “witch hunt” against local journalists as she reached Sydney on Saturday. While the Free Media Movement (FMM) in Colombo was coordinating an island-wide event in bringing together journalist associations that have been working under the prevailing media suppression and harassments by the Colombo regime, Ms Park and her colleague were visiting the island on tourist visa and were invited to attend the FMM event on Wednesday, where they were arrested.

"From the kinds of questions that we had over the two days it was clear it was kind of a witch hunt against the local media, local journalists and media freedom activists who are really trying to create some free space for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka," Park said from Sydney.

"We know from our work this is not an isolated incident but really a pattern of behavior of intimidation and threats against journalists in Sri Lanka."

The Sri Lankan Defence and immigration officials subjected Ms Park and Ms Wothington to lengthy questioning of up to nine hours a day following their arrest on Wednesday at the FMM event.

The AFP reported citing FMM spokesman Sunil Jeyasekara that Ms Park was only allowed to board the flight after the interrogators removed all data from her personal laptop at the end of two days of questioning.

In the meantime, the IFJ said it was gravely concerned about the safety of media personnel inside Sri Lanka arising from this incident.

The immigration officials in Colombo had told the visiting IFJ officials under their interrogation that Sri Lanka’s immigration law didn’t allow tourists to participate in workshops. The IFJ in its statement argued that no breaches of visa conditions have occurred.

Journalists in the island said that the episode has not only proved that the SL State is adamant on restricting local journalists from mobilizing, but the detention and deportation has also exposed how it is monitoring the interactions of the local journalists with the foreign journalists and media rights activists.

The IFJ also described the move as "an attempt to intimidate and harass journalists inside and outside Sri Lanka to prevent reporting on the realities of life in Sri Lanka" ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this month.

Tamil journalists observing the episode said without addressing the international injustice, which also failed Eezham Tamils at a crucial juncture in their history, the justice would not be restored in the island.

[Full Coverage]

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