Green MP returns to NZ after detainment in Sri Lanka

By Patrice Dougan

Green MP Jan Logie. File photo / APN
Green MP Jan Logie. File photo / APN

A Green Party MP is making her way back to New Zealand after being detained by Sri Lankan authorities and questioned about her visa.

Jan Logie was travelling with Australian Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon on a fact-finding trip to the country ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (Chogm) in Colombo, to hear first-hand accounts of human rights abuses.

However, the pair were arrested moments before a scheduled press conference when four immigration officials stepped in and confiscated their passports.

They were accused of breaking their visa regulations, and detained in their hotel for around three hours.

Ms Logie and Ms Rhiannon were this morning waiting for their flights back home.

Their planned press conference was designed to highlight the human rights abuses they had heard about during their trip.

The Green Party said their arrest and detention proves how serious the situation in the country is, and called on the Chogm organisers to cancel the meeting.

"This country should never have been given the chance to chair the CHOGM meeting while those in power at the time of gross human rights violations have been able to avoid justice, and that is more apparent to me than ever," said Ms Logie in a statement.
"The ongoing abuses of human and legal rights are so serious that there is no way that the Commonwealth meeting should go ahead in Sri Lanka.

"During the time we were detained I felt the huge injustice of being protected because I am a foreigner and it only highlighted the experience and danger of local people trying to fight human rights abuses every day."

She said some one of the local women she had been with had her ID card confiscated and was "extremely worried for the safety of her children".

Ms Logie said she was to report on her findings when she returned home.

Last night Ms Logie told APNZ immigration officials told her and Ms Rhiannon that they had breached the Immigration Act, "which we have disagreed with because we applied for visas, we said we were Members of Parliament and we went for a category for special projects, which we were advised to do.

"Through the Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia we told them we were coming and what sort of visa we were on," she said.

"We don't consider that we've done anything to breach the act."

The officials wanted to separate the pair and get separate statements.

"We weren't comfortable doing that so we've called the Australian High Commission and we're waiting for their reply."

Ms Logie told Radio New Zealand this morning that it was "unconscionable" for New Zealand to attend the meeting after what she had seen.

She said her arrest and the local authorities reaction to herself and Ms Rhiannon trying to talk about human rights abuses was "really disturbing".

"I think what's happened makes it very clear there's no freedom of speech in this country. This country is not a democracy," she said, speaking from the airport.

However, Prime Minister John Key said there "could be two sides to the story" in relation to Ms Logie's detention in Sri Lanka, but that his office had given assistance after being contacted by the Green Party last night.

"In terms of Jan Logie I don't have the details of exactly what's happened there," he said.

Mr Key said he would "definitely be going to Sri Lanka" despite the calls to boycott the meeting.

Protesters marched down Auckland's Queen Street at the weekend, calling for the Government to boycott Chogm.

"The view that NZ takes, and has taken for a long period of time, that when we're going to an international event that we are a party to, that's hosted in a country where we may have concerns or otherwise about their human rights records, we still go," he said.

"We're not going to endorse Sir Lanka, this is not a bilateral meeting with Sri Lanka. They are the hosts of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and we're and important member of the Commonwealth."

The Canadian and Indian Prime Ministers have already said they will not attend, but Mr Key said "everybody else is going".

"Yep, we could boycott it, that's a possibility, but I just don't think that's the right course of action," he said.

"The whole aim actually of the agreement that was reached some years ago to allow Sir Lanka to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government was by opening it up to the world, because the media travelling with me could be media travelling with all the other leaders that are going up and put some exposure on the situation in Sri Lanka.

"And that's going to probably help because there's British media travelling with David Cameron, Australian media travelling with Tony Abbott. I mean there's a lot of media action descending on Colombo and that may well help improve the position."

Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said Mr John Key should boycott the meeting but, if he was determined to go, then he should use the opportunity to ensure human rights issues were front and centre during the talks and that an appropriate chairperson was selected.

"It is simply not good enough for the Prime Minister to say this morning he had not made a decision about the chairmanship issue. Other countries' leaders have taken a stance on this, New Zealanders expect no less of their own Prime Minister," he said.

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