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It is my right to attend CHOGM

2013 Jul 10

by Sulochana Ramiah Mohan



Director of the controversial documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, Callum Macrae, confided to Ceylon Today that he has little chance of coming to Sri Lanka to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), as certain heads of Sri Lankan missions have warned him that he will be not welcome in the country.



However, he insisted, as a media person he has the right to be in Sri Lanka to cover the event.



“In a letter to UK Parliamentarian, Siobhain McDonagh, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt, explained the UK Government had decided to attend CHOGM, despite concerns over human rights issues in Sri Lanka. However, Alistair Burt had said ‘...we will make it clear to the Sri Lankan Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM."



“On that basis, I announced that I was applying for accreditation as a journalist at CHOGM,” Macrae said.



“However,” he added, “Sri Lanka's Consul General in Sydney, Australia, Bandula Jayasekara, responded with a series of tweets. Many were simply absurd – for example, accusing me of being paid by ‘terrorists,’ despite my clear statements that the LTTE too are guilty of war crimes.”



Serious warning



Macrae also said among the more serious tweets of Jayasekara, specifically addressed to him, was the warning, ‘I will make sure you don't get a visa to come to Sri Lanka.’



“With that remark, Jayasekara has profoundly embarrassed both the British and the Sri Lankan Governments. He has shown – unless his government disowns his remarks – the Government of Sri Lanka has no intention of respecting the rights of the international media to ‘unrestricted access’ to do its job,” Macrae alleged.



He also said, “The question is what does the UK Government intend to do, if I am refused a visa?” Macrae had screened his documentary in an event organized by a group of human rights defenders in Malaysia called, Pusat Komas, after a screening at the Malaysian Parliament. Halfway through the screening, police and members of the government’s Censorship Board, had raided the hall and suggested the screening be stopped.



Macrae said several members of Pusat Komas were arrested on technical charges – which they completely reject – of having breached some censorship regulations. The fact is this was a private screening and so did not require any such censorship approval.



He alleged the Sri Lankan Government has tried through its embassies, to stop almost every screening he has organized. “They tried it at the UN, they tried at the European Parliament, they even tried to stop the screening in the Australian Parliament. They tried again in Malaysia. They have never succeeded. Every screening has taken place – even the Malaysian screening took place in Parliament – despite the 40 or so police and Censorship Board members, who took part in the raid aftermath,” he said.



“I was advised to leave by a side door – and did so, although I have to say I was taken aback at this extraordinary attempt to silence me. I was not arrested or detained for questioning, but left for Canada.”



Duty as a journalist



He also said his job, as a journalist, is to tell the truth about what happened at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. “I want countries to make up their own minds on whether attending is right or wrong – but I want them to do it fully appraised of the facts. I will endeavour to continue telling the world about the facts.



“I am a journalist. I have researched and investigated this story for three years. It’s called journalism. It’s our job to hold governments to account. Any journalist who does not hold their government to account is either not worthy of the name, or is operating in a country where the press is not free.”



When questioned why he has taken a keen interest only to talk about the issues in Sri Lanka and that he had never shown such a keen interest when it comes to issues in other countries, Macrae said, “I have investigated war crimes whether committed by the US or UK forces – or by the LTTE or by the Sri Lankan Government.



“Having said that, I can't see how the Government of Sri Lanka can refuse me and if they do refuse me I cannot see how the UK can, in all conscience and given the letter from Alistair Burt, agree to attend.



The threats to me, whether by anonymous people on the internet or by diplomats in Australia – are not the issue. The issue is that I expect to come to cover CHOGM – and I cannot see any conceivable grounds on which the Government of Sri Lanka could justify refusing me.



Macrae has been on a tour of four Commonwealth countries to screen the film: The first of a series on international screening tours designed to take the film to Commonwealth and other countries around the world.



The first tour included parliamentary screenings in Malaysia and Australia. He has also screened the documentary in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth in Australia.



Macrae funded by Tamil Diaspora – Rambukwella



Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella voicing his opinion about Callum Macrae’s media credibility said, “On the pretext of being a press personnel, Macrae is doing his rounds funded by his well-wishers – the Tamil Diaspora.”



He also said, all media personnel attending CHOGM will be screened before issuing the visa and that this is applicable for Macrae too.



“It is too early to predict about Macrae’s visit. We are highly concerned about the activities that are going on overseas, especially by the Diaspora.



“It is little too premature to talk about Macrae’s visa and we will have to wait to see how it is handled by the Ministry of External Affairs,” the minister said.



macrae is a paid LTTE mercenary – Jayasekara



Consul General in Sydney, Australia, Bandula Jayasekara said, “Yes, I have been tweeting about Macrae’s LTTE propaganda. He is a paid LTTE mercenary and as a citizen of Sri Lanka, I will not allow him to come to Sri Lanka on any ground, although it is the Commonwealth Secretariat that decides who should come for CHOGM.



“I stand by all what I tweeted about Macrae. He is a ‘chicken’ and that is why he is running around telling about my tweets. He was simply trouble at the Geneva session, arguing with Sri Lankan journalists and a person in his right mind will not allow him to come to Sri Lanka nor give him any publicity.”



When questioned why the Sri Lankan mission failed to stop him from screening his documentary in Sydney, which he did twice, Jayasekara said Macrae is supported by MPs there, however, no one takes notice of him or his film.



He also said, “Though Macrae claims he screened his documentary in Parliaments in Malaysia and in the UK and many other countries, you should know that that is just in small chambers in Parliament and no one is keen to go to those little chambers or rooms to view his propaganda film. As he is an anti-Sri Lankan, he should not be invited in Sri Lanka, that is my personal view.”

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