For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Associated Press bureau chief in Sri Lanka, who broke news of private U.N. reports outlining civilian death tolls, has been denied permission to remain in the country.
The AP’s Ravi Nessman left Sri Lanka on Monday after the government declined to renew his journalist’s visa.
The government denied that the decision was related to his reporting on the final throes of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. The AP reported extensively on the heavy toll the war took on civilians as government forces surged across the rebels’ strongholds in the jungles of the north this year.
“We find this failure to renew Ravi’s visa disturbing,” said John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news.
Aside from reports on civilian casualties, Nessman revealed first word of a government document from January outlining a plan to keep hundreds of thousands of displaced people in camps for up to three years.
Nessman received a one-year journalist visa upon arriving in Sri Lanka in July 2007, and it was renewed the following year. The government declined to renew it for a third year.
Lucien Rajakarunanayake, director of international media in the office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, insisted the government had not ousted Nessman. He said it was standard for foreign journalists to be based in Colombo for two years.
Nessman’s predecessor as AP bureau chief, Dilip Ganguly, was based in Colombo for a decade, from 1997-2007.
Both sides of Sri Lanka’s civil war have been accused by media groups of attempting to manipulate coverage.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 11 Sri Lankan reporters were forced to flee the country in the past year, and Amnesty International said at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006.