The International Federation of Journalists condemns the detention of Asia-Pacific Director Jacqui Park and Asia-Pacific Deputy Director Jane Worthington in Sri Lanka. The two have recently been allowed to leave after being detained without charge since Wednesday October 30.
Ms Park and Ms Worthington were detained at a press freedom meeting in Colombo on Wednesday and were held in their hotel and subjected to lengthy interrogation by defence and immigration officials and the Criminal Investigation Department all Thursday.
They were taken from the meeting to their hotel against their wishes. Their passports were confiscated and they were not allowed to leave to board their planned flight at 2.45pm on October 31. A device was inserted into Ms Park’s laptop and interrogating officers appeared to download files.
They have not been charged with any crime and cooperated fully with authorities at every stage of the lengthy questioning process. They have not been physically harmed.
Media reports have suggested the Sri Lankan government was alleging Ms Park and Ms Worthington had conducted journalistic activities without obtaining media accreditation.
According to the Sri Lankan Government-operated Electronic Travel Authorisation system website, attending workshops is not prohibited under the conditions of the Sri Lankan tourist visa. The IFJ is adamant that no breaches of visa conditions have occurred.
AFP and local media have reported that Ms Park and Ms Worthington were accused by Sri Lankan Minister of Mass Media and Information Mr Keheliya Rambukwella of engaging in “anti-government activism” in breach of their visa conditions. The IFJ unequivocally denies this has occurred.
At the beginning of the questioning by Sri Lankan officials, Ms Park was confronted with an extensive dossier covering in detail her 17 visits to Sri Lanka over 15 years. She has been subjected to lengthy interrogations of up to nine hours focusing on her movements in Sri Lanka and her associations with local media personnel.
The IFJ believes this move by Sri Lankan officials is an attempt to intimidate and harass journalists inside and outside Sri Lanka to prevent reporting on the realities of life in Sri Lanka in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, which begins in Colombo on November 15.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declined to attend CHOGM due to concerns about human rights abuses under the Rajapaksa regime.
The IFJ has been working in Sri Lanka for almost 20 years to protect media rights and promote and foster a culture of ethical, independent, public service journalism.
The IFJ has grave concerns about the safety of media personnel inside Sri Lanka arising from this incident. The IFJ is also deeply concerned about the safety of media personnel in Sri Lanka over the long term, most immediately once international leaders leave the country after the CHOGM meeting ends on November 17.