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Sri Lanka 7 November 2002

Explanation demanded of visa refusal for British journalist

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today criticised the Sri Lankan government’s refusal to renew the visa of Paul Harris, of the British Daily Telegraph, who is being forced to leave the country after a campaign of intimidation.

The organisation regretted that the authorities had given no reason for their refusal and called on foreign minister Tyronne Fernando to renew the visa without delay.  Harris, who is also correspondent in Sri Lanka for the geopolitical magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review, said he was leaving the country on 8 November on the advice of the British embassy.

He has worked in Sri Lanka since last November and had routinely applied for an annual visa renewal on 30 September.  The government did not respond and has since refused to explain its attitude.

Harris told Reporters Without Borders he was being targeted for his critical reporting of peace negotiations between the government and the Tamil Tiger separatists, who he said may have pressured the government not to renew his visa.

He was asked to speak publicly to opposition members of parliament after he wrote an article in Jane’s Intelligence Review in May.  He was subsequently called an "agent of the British MI5 intelligence service" by minister Rajitha Senaratne.

A week later, the government ordered a secret investigation of him, Harris said.  Staff at his hotel were questioned, his room searched and his movements closely watched. For the past week, he had been intimidated and harassed by armed men.

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