New Democrat MP Of Tamil Background Faced ‘Political Intimidation’ In Sri Lanka

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NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on October 19, 2012. The Canadian government is trying to determine if there is any truth to a Sri Lankan media report that a New Democrat MP is under house arrest in the Asian country.

OTTAWA – A New Democrat MP ofTamil heritage says she experienced”political intimidation” during a privatevisit to her native Sri Lanka, but thatauthorities stopped short of trying tokick her out of the country.In a statement issued Wednesday, RathikaSitsabaiesan said she was warned by SriLankan officials that she could be arrestedand deported, reported CanadianPress.Canadian officials were scrambling onNew Year’s Eve to determine the veracityof reports that Sitsabaiesan, aToronto-area MP, had been placed underhouse arrest.Sitsabaiesan said in the statement thatshe had received word from theCanadian High Commission in Colombothat there was in fact no Sri Lankanarrest warrant in her name.Sitsabaiesan, 32, came to Canada withher family at the age of five and waselected to the House of Commons in2011 in the Toronto-area riding ofScarborough-Rouge River.She played a prominent role in NewDemocrat efforts to persuade theConservative government to boycott ameeting of Commonwealth leaders in SriLanka last November. Prime MinisterStephen Harper did not attend, citing theSri Lankan government’s human rightsrecord.However, Deepak Obhrai, a parliamentarysecretary, did represent Canada atthe Colombo meeting.The New Democrats and others havecalled for the Asian country’s governmentto submit to an investigation ofalleged war crimes during the lengthycivil war between the military and Tamilinsurgents seeking an independenthomeland.”My experiences since arriving in SriLanka are a reminder that defendingprinciples of human rights is not easy,but I continue to believe that it is onlythrough open dialogue and freedom ofexpression that people can ultimatelyachieve healing and reconciliation,”Sitsabaiesan said in the statement.She added that she now looks forward”to exploring and learning more aboutthe country of my birth.”New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, who hasspoken to Sitsabaiesan, said Wednesdayhis caucus colleague had been followedand closely monitored by Sri Lankanauthorities during her stay.”Her intention was to visit the country ofher birth, and to visit friends and family,”said Dewar, the party’s foreign affairscritic.”As soon as she arrived it becameclear that the authorities were keeping aclose tab on her. And then she started toreceive warnings that she should be carefulof whom she speaks to, where shegoes. “This is a pattern we’ve seen withthe Sri Lankan government.”Two Green Party MPs — one fromAustralia, the other from New Zealand— had their passports confiscated inNovember just before a planned newsconference in Sri Lanka to describehuman rights abuses they were told ofduring their trip. Dewar said authoritiesshowed up at Sitsabaiesan’s hotelTuesday night to try to meet with her butshe did not respond. Officials were concernedthat Sitsabaiesan, who is in thecountry on a visitor’s visa, had met witha Sri Lankan MP and had visited anorphanage, Dewar said. The visitsinvolved family, he added, noting thelocal MP was a cousin. Sitsabaiesanshould not be prevented from seeing afamily member who happens to be activein politics, he said. “That’s why we wantedto be very public about what she wasdoing, whom she was meeting with. Andthat we didn’t believe, and she doesn’tbelieve, that this is in any way shape orform outside of what the conditionswere for her visa.” Officials at theCanadian High Commission were intouch with Sitsabaiesan again Wednesdayand learned that she had not been interviewedby Sri Lankan authorities abouther visa, said Caitlin Workman, a ForeignAffairs spokeswoman. Dewar said the Sri Lankan governmentis concerned aboutpeople seeing what is going onin the country and is thereforecurtailing access. “If someonewho’s a member of Parliamentis being followed and restricted,just think of what happensevery day to Sri Lankans ofTamil origin.”Sitsabaiesan intends to stayuntil Saturday when her visaexpires, he said.Dewar added that ForeignAffairs Minister John Baird hadcontacted him to say he wasaware of what was going on,”and we certainly appreciatethat support.”Courtesy Canadian Press