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Documentary crew detained briefly, expelled from country

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

FMM decries military's expulsion of journalists from Jaffna

Free Media Movement is appalled by the gross violation of journalists' rights by the military in their expulsion of three journalists from Jaffna. The journalists had even obtained MOD (Ministry of Defence) clearance to make a documentary.

The Quick Silver Media crew, which was traveling in Sri Lanka to produce a documentary for Channel 4 television in the UK, was denied its right to carry out journalistic duties in Jaffna by the military. A team of three female journalists (two foreigners and a local) arrived in Jaffna on 4 October 2007 by a commercial flight. They were planning to stay in Jaffna until 7 October.

Reporter Sandra Jordan, camerawoman Siobhan Sinnerton-Camerawomann, and producer Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai had obtained the MOD's approval to film and to interview people in Jaffna between 4 -7 October, and to visit locations in Mannar, Vavuniya and the in the east.

The three female journalists had booked accommodation at a privately-owned guest house in Jaffna town during their stay. But the military requested they stay at an army base in Palaly. They refused to do so. Later, they were accompanied to the privately-owned guest house by the military, although the visiting journalists continued to object the presence of the military escort. After half an hour, the military officers went back to the guest house and asked the journalists to leave the house to go to Palaly to stay overnight. The officers cited the journalists' safety as the reason for their requested stay in Palaly. The journalists spent the night in the army base in Palaly.

On 5 October, the visiting journalists were taken on a two-hour facility tour in Jaffna town. And at the end of the tour the journalists were asked to leave Jaffna by a commercial flight to Colombo the same day.

This is a blatant violation of people's right to information. Jaffna citizens have right to voice their concerns, independently of any military or armed outfit. The government's duty is to protect those rights, not to protect those who violate such rights.

Jaffna has been under the rule of the Sri Lankan government and military for nearly 12 years. FMM highlights the presence of serious problems, evidenced by the fact authorities' refusal to allow independent reporting from Jaffna, even after 12 years of rule.

FMM would like to emphasize that this incident is symbolic of the issues facing journalists in Jaffna. It again proves the assertion made by the International Freedom of Expression Mission to Sri Lanka that Jaffna is one of the most dangerous places in the world today for media and journalism. For the last two years, government has virtually barred information coming from Jaffna.

For more information on Jaffna please visit: http://www.freemediasrilanka.org/index.php?action=con_all_full&id=27§ion=news_reports

FMM requests that the military in Jaffna reconsider its decision to expel these three journalists from Jaffna and allow the crew to return to cover the situation in Jaffna. At the same time, FMM insists that the government's obligation is to respect people's right to information and to ensure that local and foreign media are able to visit and report from Jaffna.

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