A visa or freedom of expression issue?

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.

9 Comments Posted

  1. 1976 the LTTE was formed, by 1983 there was a “recognised” civil/terrorism war going on.
    I guess it came to most peoples attention when the Tigers assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, after which all kinds of calls for investigation were made.

    War history is, indeed, written by the victors, and it would be good to have an unbiased, or at least balanced, perspective on many wars such as this one. Some instances that leap to mind include The Maori wars,The Northern Ireland ‘conflict’, The Vietnam war, the Kandy ‘occupation’, but there are hundreds of other examples.

    Personally I’m just glad the damned thing is over, the LTTE are fighting over leadership, bank accounts and drug distribution systems, and the average citizen can try to put the whole thing behind them and try to recover a vibrant and thriving little nation. Preferably without having the whole thing dragged over the coals again when Mr. Prabacheran isn’t here any longer to face the music and the commander of the Army through the worst times is also unable to give evidence due to his being assassinated, with his wife, by a suicide bomber.

    As for what Jan should do with her time, the choice is entirely hers, as long as she does it on her own, or the Green Party’s funds



  2. Actually Dave, before, after and during the insurrection there, the human rights investigations were “called for”. I do remember that happening… even before I came to New Zealand a decade ago.

    The problem is that they were so blatant on both sides that no investigation was rationally possible at all.

    History is written by the winners… and it isn’t an accurate or honest depiction as a rule. That is expected but is not an admirable human trait. The excesses and the pain of the struggle are not things that go quietly away. Anyone who has visited Alabama and Massachusetts can work out that the “American Civil War” isn’t really forgotten or forgiven or in some ways even over. The scars last a long time.

    … and given the actual power distribution in parliament Jan may as well go when she feels like going. It isn’t as though this government pays us any attention, is it? 🙂

    (I wonder if they arrange paired absences here? In the US a Republican and a Democrat may arrange to hare off in different directions at the same time so as not to disturb the balance of power in any vote that comes up in their absence.)


  3. BJ
    Sorry, my point is that it is the defeat of the LTTE that has resulted in calls for investigations into human rights violations. In Sri Lanka the topic for over 35 years has been the impact the LTTE is, has and will have on everyday life there. The British, Canadian, Australian and Norwegian “branches” of the LTTE are still very active, and supported by most of Tamil Nadu. So, my friend (if I may call you that,) I see the issue as being about the Tigers. But the rest of your comments strike a chord with me other than Jan’s”job” including visiting Sri Lanka during a period when The House is sitting.
    Rest well, tomorrow is another day.

  4. Sam
    I think you miss my point.
    Assuming BJ is not currently an MP, which I do, I would be very happy for him to visit Sri Lanka and discover the facts for himself. I would even invite him to stay with us there and meet the people in the local town, Sinhalas, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and others. I would not expect the NZ tax payer to fund the trip.

    When John Key goes overseas on Government business (e.g. CHOGM,) he represents the country as it’s elected leader. I do not remember anything about Sri Lanka in the Green Party’s election manifesto at the last, or any other, election, so can’t see how this trip fulfils any aspect of a policy platform. However, I’m sure there is a good catch all somewhere that you could fit it in under. My point on this is that Ms Logie was not in Sri Lanka representing New Zealand, so I don’t see why New Zealanders should fund the trip ESPECIALLY DURING A PERIOD WHEN THE HOUSE IS SITTING. The way an MP is expected, by job description, to pursue a policy agenda, if they are not part of government, is to seek to influence bills progressing through the House. Indeed, as the last Clerk once informed me, the work of the House and Members is the creation of law through the conversion of Bills into Acts, through discussion, debate, consideration and challenge; that is what I think we pay non-minister MPs to do.

  5. “a Member of The NZ House of Representatives, being paid a salary by the NZ tax payer, should pursue “The Greens’ ” interest in their own time, and turn up for their 4 days a week core “duties” and leave foreign fact finding missions to other members of the organisation.”

    “you have spent no time there, have no daily perspective on life there for average people”

    So you condemn people for going yet also say their opinion is valueless if they don’t?

    And given Green MPs have been elected to pursue a specific policy agenda, isn’t it their job to do so? Are you going to moan when John Key goes overseas, or carries out the National Party’s policy agenda?

  6. I have no brief to make this about the Tamil Tigers Dave, and you are making it about them, so we aren’t realistically talking about the same problems. Not in the least bit. Moreover, I know Ms Logie and she isn’t one to simply jump in and stir things up on a whim… or to misrepresent the way events unfolded. At the same time I am pretty sure that you saw what you say you saw. The two stories do not actually conflict… they are about two different things.

    So that leaves me, again, with a perception of how that government responds to certain kinds of criticism/scrutiny/commentary that is not particularly flattering OR surprising. That Jan went is also not surprising, she is our spokesperson for human rights. It IS her job.

    Being unable to hear both sides of a story is a good way to not get the truth (which is usually not entirely in either of them).

    We will never know what she might have concluded, as she was not permitted to ask and discover. The conclusion I reach about that government does not require any elaborate knowledge of history there, just a knowledge of what transpired when she was tossed out.

  7. BJ

    The entire Sri Lanka challenge IS the Tamil Tigers and recovering from the impact they had over their 30 year war against anyone, Sinhalese, Tamil or other, who disagreed with them.

    Within Sri Lanka I have not seen any hindrance for locals regarding freedom of association or freedom of the press. Neither have I seen an extremely repressive government, repressive yes, but not to an extreme.

    The issue with whith external scrutiny of its operations is not to do with what is happening today, but a desire to reopen the debate on the 2 month period at the end of the war against the LTTE. It is easy to point to a terrible number of bodies dressed in civilian clothes and say ‘these were killed by the government’s military’: however, when dealing with terrorists, who only wore “uniforms” for ceremonial occasions (such a the day they put aside to memorialise the suicide bombers that had successfully killed,) how do you separate the combatants from the noncombats

    You say that the GoSL hasn’t gotten past its war footing and its siege mentality and is doing all it can to silence its opposition, but you have spent no time there, have no daily perspective on life there for average people (both Tamil and other). Your perception us as valid as that of a friend in England who decently asked me if my daughters were safe from rape in New Zealand as apparently it is legal here!

    As Greens, in fact as any group of people who chose to do so, you are free to have policies that include YOUR relationships with other countries and the human rights of ALL humans, you are also free to go and see what goes on in other places. I just don’t think that the New Zealand tax payer should fund the visit, or why it should be necessary to send an MP during house sitting time, when tax payers are paying for the specific activities of the position of MP to be carried out.

    What “The Greens'” knitting as an organisation is is none of my concern and I don’t comment on it. However, I do feel entitled to say that a Member of The NZ House of Representatives, being paid a salary by the NZ tax payer, should pursue “The Greens’ ” interest in their own time, and turn up for their 4 days a week core “duties” and leave foreign fact finding missions to other members of the organisation.

    Written with respect for, but disagreement with, your opinion.

  8. Dave, this isn’t about the Tamil Tigers. It is about freedom of association, freedom of press and an extremely repressive government which is not happy with external scrutiny of its operations. History is written by the victors, and in this case the Sri Lankan government won.

    It hasn’t gotten past its war footing and its siege mentality and it is doing all it can to silence its opposition. We, AS Greens, have policies that include our relationships with other countries and the human rights of ALL humans. I understand why Jan felt she had to go and see, and we aren’t about to “stick to our knitting” as the phrase goes.

    The government may shrug its shoulders about it all and wonder why we care. This says more about the government than it does about us.

  9. Happily, having spent about a year equivelant in Sri Lanka since the LTTE were defeated , I have made up my mind on what is going on there. The reality is that
    The average standard of living has gone up
    The national infrastructure has very significantly improved
    The people displaced by the civil war with the LTTE have gone back to their homes
    Young people have been freed from forced conscription into the LTTE pseudo military
    Children have ceased being brainwashed into being suicide bombers
    Free schooling has continued
    Free university education for qualified students has continued
    Freedom of religion has continued
    A national terrorist organisation has been completely routed (the only one in the world)
    OUTSIDERS whose main purpose for visiting is to foment mischief have been identified and had their visas revoked

    I note that you didn’t specify what visa you applied for and were granted, nor where your advice on visas was sourced.

    I hold no brief for either the GoSL nor the Tamil Tigers. I have seen first hand some of the things done in the name of progress and would be much happier if they had not happened: however Sri Lanka is a country recovering from war with an organisation branded by many governments and NGOs as the worse, most toxic, terrorist organisation in the world. As in any situation involving terrorists it inevitable involved innoced citizens being hurt, by both sides. I

    In every was in history civilians have been adversely affected; we in the west are not without sin in this. In terrorism situations there has only been one instance of total defeat of terrorists, that was in Sri Lanka in 2008. As a result of this defeat, the victors can be accused of many things and are there to be pointed at and chastised the terrorists that didn’t die in the conflict have, in the main, slunk into the background and anonymously referred to ‘following orders at gunpoint’.

    Enough said by me. We have several significant issues to address here at home, without minority party MPs shooting off on tax-payer funded trips to scratch the surface of other countries’ internal issues.

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