Jan Logie

A visa or freedom of expression issue?

by Jan Logie

There’s been a story running, supported by the Sri Lanka Government that Lee and I were in Sri Lanka illegally on the wrong visas and were not detained or questioned.

On one level they’re right; on another it’s absolutely untrue. Let me present the story as I know it:

We applied for the visa we were advised to apply for. We identified ourselves as Members of Parliament on our visa applications. Both Lee and I put out media releases about the intention of our trip and I held a media briefing. Additionally Australian Foreign Affairs sent the Sri Lankan Government a letter telling them we were coming and what visa we would be on. Lee was met at the airport by someone in CHOGM clothing holding a sign with both of our names who took her to meet the MP we were meeting with.

Fast forward a couple of days after meeting with around 30 MPs, City Councillors and church leaders and meblers of civil society. Lee and I were in a meeting with an immigration lawyer, about half an hour before we were scheduled to hold a press conference. Immigration arrived and asked to see our passports and search the building. Initially there were two officers and then another two arrived. They took our passports required us to go to our hotel. They told us we were in breach of the Immigration Act – that we weren’t allowed to meet with MPs (we were in an MPs office) or talk to the media. They took the ID of the local staff member who was with us. The local people were very worried – for themselves; as was appropriate.

Immigration tried to separate us and interview us on who we had met with and where but we refused until we’d had consular advice.

When the ABC media turned up with a camera, they had their passports taken off them. They were told this was not CHOGM business and if they filmed it they would lose their CHOGM press passes.

There was diplomatic intervention and after three hours the head of defence with three other staff arrived and gave us back our passports and told us we could go as long as we didn’t have any more meetings and or talk to local media.

While we weren’t locked up. We were not free to go, especially not without our passports. They wanted to question us but diplomatic intervention prevented it.

It seems to me we were on the right visa, until we wanted to hold a Press Conference.

From my perspective this isn’t a story about me. This is a story about freedom of association and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

Two weeks ago Australian journalists talking to groups about free press were deported for being on the wrong visa. Two days before the International Bar Assn. and a UN Special rapporteur had their visas revoked because Sri Lanka had decided that they were only accepting CHOGM officials. Separately a team from the UK’s Channel 4 TV were been prevented from visiting the former war zone in the north on 13 November. Universities have been closed around the country for the week of the CHOGM meeting

Just this morning Sri Lankan military blocked scores of family members of disappeared people from attending a human rights vigil in Colombo.

Make up your mind what was going on.

Published in Justice & Democracy | Society & Culture by Jan Logie on Thu, November 14th, 2013   

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