(TheIndependent) - Callum Macrae the film director of No Fire Zone: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields speaks to a senior journalist in Sri Lanka over the threats by a diplomat who says Callum should not visit Sri Lanka for CHOGM; Callum says he has all the right to be in Sri Lanka for CHOGM as he has covered CHOGM previously.
Bandula Jayasekara however, when Ceylon Today’s (July 7 issue) Sulochana Ramiah Mohan queried about the tweets to Macrae he said thus; “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. Meanwhile 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.”
We publish below the interviews in full;
I can’t see how the Government of Sri Lanka can refuse me - Callum
Q : What were the real threats from the Sri Lankan diplomat aimed at you regarding CHOGM and your intended visit to Sri Lanka?
In a letter to UK MP, Siobhain McDonagh, Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, explained that the UK government had decided to attend CHOGM, despite the concerns over Human rights issues in Sri Lanka. However he made it clear that the UK government was, in effect, seeking certain assurances from the Sri Lankan Government as a pre-condition. One of those was to do with freedom of the press. He said: ‘… we will make it clear to the Sri Lanka 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. I attended CHOGM in Perth as a fully accredited representative of the press, and I certainly expect to do the same in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Sydney, Australia, Bandula Jayasekara, who is not only a senior diplomat but was also once the Presidents Media Advisor, 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, (as more than adequately explained in Ceylon Today a couple of weeks ago).
But more serious was his extraordinary tweet – specifically addressed to me - in which he said: “ ‘I will make sure you don’t get a visa to come to Sri Lanka.’
With that incredible remark Jayasekara has profoundly embarrassed both the British and the Sri Lankan governments. He has shown – unless his government disowns his remarks – that the GOSL has no intention of respecting the international media’s right to “unrestricted access” to do its job.
He has also left the British government in a position where it has no choice, if it is to be consistent, but to refuse to attend. Unless, of course, the Sri Lankan government disowns Jayasekara’s remarks and makes out clear that I – and all other legitimate foreign journalists – will be welcomed in Colombo in November.
There is another real problem with Jeyasekara’s intemperate language and his absurd threats to “make sure” I don’t get a visa. In a democratically accountable nation which operates according to the rule of law, a consul General in Australia has absolutely no right to unilaterally declare he can ”make sure” someone doesn’t get a visa. That he even thinks he has such power it is disturbing – if he actually has such power it is doubly so.
But there is another problem too. When Jeyasekara accuses me on twitter – absurdly, in the face of the evidence – of being ”that LTTE tiger terrorist propagandist, Callum Macrae”, he invites the kind of comments we saw on the internet in response to my declaration that I expect to attend CHOGM.. One anonymous comment, for example, read: ‘Absolutely, white van is waiting at the airport.’
Another said: ‘Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe. (sic)’ I do not need to tell a Sri Lankan audience what those threats mean.
What do you intend to do if you don’t get to come for CHOGM?
I think the question is not what do I intend to do, if I am refused a visa, The question is what does the UK government intend to do if I am refused a visa?
Also what was the real allegation of screening your documentary in Malaysia? Why were the organisers arrested, and why would you have leave to leave in a haste without confronting the officials. What could have possibly happen if you had faced them?
The organisers – an group of Human Rights defenders in Malaysia called 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. But the issue goes beyond that technicality. What lay behind the raid, it seems, was a series of efforts by the Sri Lankan Embassy to put pressure on the organisers -and the owners of the venue – to cancel the screening. They both refused. In fact the Sri Lankan government has tried through its embassies, to stop almost every screening we have had. They tried 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, despite the 40 or so police and Censorship Board members who took part in the road.
What makes you visit commonwealth countries before CHOGM?
Commonwealth nations need to know what happened in the country which is hosting CHOGM. Then they have to ask themselves whether a regime accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century – a regime which is silencing its critics and has even attacked its own judiciary - is appropriate to spend the next two years leading the Commonwealth’s drive to defend its core principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law?
Are you promoting the commonwealth country not to visit Sri Lanka for CHOGM?
My 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.
As a journalist, why do you take such stern steps apart from highlighting the war crimes? what is the end result you expect?
I am a journalist. I have researched and investigated this story for three years. My films have been subjected to the most intense scrutiny and every credible and serious analysis has concluded that we got the story right. It is, quite simply, my job to tell this story. When vested interest claim it is false, faked, or paid for, that merely increases my determination – and my duty – to tell that story. Its called journalism. Its 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.
Do you do the same with other finding in other nations, to see an end result, or have you just picked only on Sri Lanka?
Please will anyone who believes the government when they say things like “What about Iraq? Or “what about the crimes of the west? look at my work. Just look at the series of films I’ve made investigating allegations of war crimes in Iraq. Look at the films I’ve made criticizing US interventions in Africa. I will – and I have – investigated war crimes whether committed by US or UK forces – or by the LTTE or by the Sri Lankan government
Going by the present scenario, do you think you would be issued the visa to attend CHOGM?
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.
Are you taking up the threats posed to you by Sri Lankans to your Prime Minister and other UK Parliamentarians?
The threats to me – whether by anonymous people on the internet or by foolish 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 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.”
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.