Non-extension of visa to British journalist criticised

COLOMBO NOV. 9. The international media-rights group, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and the Sri Lankan President's office have criticised the Government for not extending the visa of a British journalist, Paul Harris, who is a contributor for the Janes Intelligence Review and the Daily Telegraph.

The RSF called upon the Foreign Minister, Tyronne Fernando, to "renew the visa without delay.'' Mr. Harris, who was stationed here for a year by the Daily Telegraph, had written on the deployment of child soldiers by the LTTE, and ran into trouble with the Government on a few occasions. One such instance was immediately after he addressed a group of MPs belonging to the Opposition People's Alliance and the Left-radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in Parliament. Later, he was a columnist in a Sri Lankan newspaper, the Daily Mirror. The President Chandrika Kumaratunga's spokesman, in a statement said that "it is not correct to refuse a visa for a journalist from a friendly country, who has done no wrong. This insidious silencing of an often-lone voice against the conventional wisdom of the government is a serious erosion of media freedom."

Mr. Harris was granted visa during the earlier PA administration to work in Colombo, which according to his admission had procedural inconsistencies. In 1998, a Chinese news agency journalist was asked to leave the island for misreporting. Just before last year's change of government, a global media organisation was requested to replace its Colombo correspondent.

The Foreign Correspondents' Association of Sri Lanka (FCA) said it was "seriously concerned" over the decision not to grant a visa extension for a journalist to carry out his "legitimate, professional duties". "Mr. Harris may be a controversial figure, but his journalistic work must not be cited for a non-extension of his visa," its spokesman said.

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