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Detained Australian journalists ‘a message’

Two Australian journalists believe Sri Lankan authorities detained them to send a message ahead of a Commonwealth leaders meeting.

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific director Jacqui Park and her deputy Jane Worthington arrived home on Saturday after two harrowing days being questioned by Sri Lankan authorities.

The pair met local media at a press freedom event in Sri Lanka before authorities confiscated their passports and grilled them on Wednesday.

The Sri Lankan government took issue with the Australian duo participating in the event when they were in the country on tourist visas.

Ms Park and Ms Worthington were relieved to be on Australian soil when they arrived at Sydney International Airport on Saturday morning.

Ms Park said they were questioned in a hotel room with a lawyer present but said it was intimidating.

She said local journalists had concerns ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo later this month.

“I think it was talked about in the interviewing and referenced very much,” Ms Park told reporters at the airport.

“We were told we were potentially making trouble for them in the lead up to CHOGM.”

The Australian women believe the treatment they received was about sending a message to others about the kind of treatment they could expect if they campaigned for freedom of expression. The Australian Government should take a “very close look” at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, Ms Park said.

The call comes after Canada boycotted CHOGM in a sign of protest against Sri Lanka’s questionable human rights practices.

Despite having their passports confiscated and being told they could not leave, Ms Park said the focus was on Sri Lankan media.

“From the kinds of questions that we had over the two days it was clear it was kind of a witch hunt against the local media, local journalists and media freedom activists who are really trying to create some free space for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka,” she told reporters.

Sri Lankan Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told local journalists on Thursday the two Australians 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.”

Ms Park said she was surprised to see authorities with a dossier of her approximately 15 visits to Sri Lanka in the past 15 years.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren, who is also Ms Park’s husband, said the situation showed how difficult it was for journalists in Sri Lanka.

“And it demonstrates how important it is for journalists around the world to stand together and work together,” he said. - AAP

Posted on Saturday, November 02, 2013 @ 13:37:26 LKT by

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