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Aussies detained in Sri Lanka fly home, data ‘erased’

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Two Australian media rights activist detained in Sri Lanka since Wednesday are on their way home, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says its Asia-Pacific director Jacqui Park and her deputy Jane Worthington have been “extensively” interrogated since they were taken into custody.

They were taking part in a press freedom meeting in Colombo, according to the IFJ.

Ms Bishop said she had spoken to her Sri Lankan counterpart.

“The Sri Lankan foreign minister has assured me they are on their way home as we speak,” she told reporters in Perth on Friday night.

Sri Lankan Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has told local journalists the two Australians had arrived in the country as tourists but were instead engaging in “anti-government activism”.

“We have no personal interest in the two individuals but they have broken the visa conditions,” the minister said on Thursday.

“We are treating them according to the law. That means they will be sent back.”

The IFJ said in a statement that the women’s passports were confiscated on Wednesday and although they agreed to leave Sri Lanka by the following day, ahead of their scheduled departure on Friday, they were later told they could not leave.

The IFJ has denied the women were involved in any anti-government activities or breached their visa conditions, instead describing their detention as an attempt to intimidate and harass journalists in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this month.

The organisation says Sri Lankan officials had kept a file on Ms Park, detailing her 17 visits to the country over 15 years.

“She has been subjected to several lengthy interrogations of up to nine hours focusing on her movements in Sri Lanka and associations with local media personnel,” the IFJ said.

The pair are due to touch down in Sydney on Saturday morning and are expected to be met by the head of the Australian journalists’ union, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance secretary Chris Warren.

Data ‘erased’ in Colombo

Meanwhile a local rights group says that authorities wiped all the data from the computer of one of the activists.

According to members of the local Free Media Movement (FMM), Park was only allowed to board after plain-clothes investigators removed all data from her personal laptop at the end of two days of questioning.

“They were told by the immigration officials today that it was all a big misunderstanding,” FMM spokesman Sunil Jayasekera said.

“They went through everything in the computer. When they gave it back to her, everything had been erased,” Jayasekera added.

There was no immediate comment from immigration authorities who detained the pair during a meeting with FMM colleagues at a hotel in Colombo on Wednesday.

The IFJ in a statement condemned the detention of the pair in Colombo and said the authorities had subjected them to lengthy questioning and prevented them from boarding their planned flight on Thursday.

The two were confronted with an extensive dossier on her 17 visits to Sri Lanka over 15 years and questioned about her associations with local media personnel.

“The IFJ has grave concerns about the safety of media personnel inside Sri Lanka arising from this incident,” the organisation said in a statement.

It said it was also “deeply concerned” about the safety of media personnel in Sri Lanka after a Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka from November 15 - 17.

The IFJ insisted that Park did not violate any visa regulations and noted Sri Lanka’s Electronic Travel Authorisation website did not prohibit attending workshops after entering the country on tourist visas.

Sri Lanka’s main opposition the United National Party (UNP) on Friday also condemned the detention of the two media rights activists.

- Agencies 

Posted on Saturday, November 02, 2013 @ 13:35:42 LKT by

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