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Jamaican journalist detained briefly, faces expulsion order

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has expressed shock at the treatment of Jamaican national, Tenesha Thomas, of the regional news agency Caribupdate, who was arrested on 14 February 2008 on the grounds that her visa had expired and told she would be expelled on 15 February.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said the decision was all the more surprising since the Grenadian immigration service admitted it had made a mistake. The organisation added it hoped this was not an act of covert censorship and urged the government to provide an explanation.

The political journalist was arrested and held at Saint-George by four agents of Grenada's immigration service on the grounds that her visa had expired. She pointed out to them that officials had inverted the day and the month, confusing 8 February (8/02) with 2 August (2/08). She also showed them her return ticket to Jamaica, for the first week of March. Despite finally admitting their mistake and despite attempts by Caribupdate's management to contact the office of the Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, the expulsion remains in force. She was due to leave for Jamaica on 15 February.

The Media Workers Association of Grenada has condemned the incident as "an attack on press freedom".

Thomas, who formerly worked for Jamaica's leading daily, "The Gleaner", arrived in Grenada on 1 January 2008 to report on forthcoming general elections for Caribupdate and was responsible for covering the opposition campaign. The Founder and director of Caribupdate, Hamlet Mark, himself from Grenada, said the expulsion would mean his media outlet was being punished.

"We are shocked by the plight of Tenesha Thomas for more than one reason," Reporters Without Borders said. "Jamaica and Grenada are linked through the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), which eases circulation of residents from one country to another as well as extensions of periods of stay. How can the expulsion of this journalist be maintained even though it has been admitted that her papers were in order? The incident gives rise to fears that the authorities are using Thomas to mete out unfair treatment to Caribupdate."

This is not the first such case in the region. Two journalists from CARICOM countries were forced to leave Antigua and Barbuda, another member state, on 12 and 13 June 2007 in the same circumstances.

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