, Sydney November 2- An Australian media rights activist accused Sri Lankan officials of a “witch hunt” against local journalists as she arrived back in Sydney on Saturday after being detained in Colombo for two days.
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific director Jacqui Park was detained Wednesday along with her deputy Jane Worthington at a media freedom meeting in Colombo.
The IFJ said Park was subject to lengthy questioning of up to nine hours a day which focused on her movements in Sri Lanka and her associations with locals working in the 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,” Park said from Sydney.
“We know from our work this is not an isolated incident but really a pattern of behaviour of intimidation and threats against journalists in Sri Lanka.”
The IFJ said it believes the move was “an attempt to intimidate and harass journalists inside and outside Sri Lanka to prevent reporting on the realities of life in Sri Lanka” ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this month.
Park called on Canberra to take a close look at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office had no comment on the matter, but the conservative leader has previously said he will attend CHOGM because he believes the Commonwealth is an important institution.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also said she will attend the summit, which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper intends to skip because of concerns about serious rights abuses.
“It’s our view that Commonwealth countries should work with Sri Lanka to meet the challenges that they face and we certainly will be encouraging countries to do that,” Bishop said last week.
Park and Worthington were not physically harmed, but were prevented from returning home on their planned flight. They were expelled Friday after authorities ordered them out for “anti-government” activities.
The pair had travelled to Sri Lanka on tourist visas, and the IFJ said attending workshops such as the one they had was not prohibited under the conditions of this visa.
“The IFJ is adamant that no breaches of visa conditions have occurred,” it said.
Sri Lanka has blacklisted many foreign journalists over their reports on the country’s human rights record and alleged war crimes in the final stages of the Tamil ethnic war in 2009.
Local journalists have also been the victims of crimes and many say they practise self censorship.
An anti-establishment editor fled the country in August, less than a month after armed men held her at knifepoint.
In 2009, the Sunday Leader newspaper’s editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, a staunch critic of the government, was shot dead near his office just outside the capital.