Friday, 17 April 2009 22:21 administrator
The Sri Lankan immigration officer’s eyes narrowed as soon as she swiped my passport at Colombo’s international airport last week, Jeremy Page, reporter for the British paper, 'The Times' sharing his experience at the Sri Lankan Airport.
“Come this way,” she said, leading me into a side room, where a colleague typed my details into a computer. A message flashed up on his screen: “DO NOT ALLOW TO ENTER THE COUNTRY”, With that, my passport was confiscated, I was escorted to an airport detention room, locked up for the night, and deported the next day.
Jeremy Page 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," Page.
I can’t say I was surprised – although it was my first deportation in 12 years of reporting from China, the former Soviet Union and South Asia, says Jeremy.
"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. So I was trying to enter as a tourist (you can usually get a visa on arrival) to write about the 150,000 civilians the UN estimates are trapped in a no-fire zone with the remnants of the Tigers." 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.
The first story that may have angered Colombo, "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.
Another story that annoyed the Government was about its plan to keep all Tamils fleeing the fighting in camps run by the army and ringed by barbed wire for up to three years. A February 13, 2009 article on "Barbed wire villages raise fears of refugee concentration camps" on which, 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.
Courtesy: Times Online