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NDP MP speaks out on false reports of house arrest in Sri Lanka

Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the NDP MP for Scarborough-Rouge River, is shown in Toronto on Aug. 4, 2011.

DELLA ROLLINS/The Globe and Mail

A New Democrat MP who was rumoured to have been under house arrest in Sri Lanka says she had been threatened by that country's officials but has been told there are no plans to detain her.

Rathika Sitsabaiesan, who represents the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, said in a statement distributed Wednesday by the NDP that she has been subjected to intimidation by Sri Lankan authorities since arriving in that country to visit her extended family and to see the places where she once lived.

"I was warned I could be subject to arrest and deportation, as several commonwealth MPs from New Zealand and Australia recently faced," said Ms. Sitsabaiesan. "I have received word from the Canadian High Commission in Colombo that the Sri Lankan authorities have confirmed that their previous claims of an arrest warrant in my name does not exist and I now look forward to exploring and learning more about the country of my birth."

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Officials at the Canadian High Commission in Colombo said they have spoken with Ms. Sitsabaiesan and she has confirmed that she is OK, Caitlin Workman, a spokeswoman for the International Affairs department said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

The Columbo Gazette carried a story on its website earlier in the week stating that Ms. Sitsabaiesan, who was born in Sri Lanka and who was on a personal visit to that country, was under house arrest. The newspaper then updated its story to include denials from police, immigration officials and the Sri Lankan army.

A Tamil website, TamilNet, also posted an article on Tuesday night that Ms. Sitsabaiesan was being confined to her hotel and that authorities had stationed officers there to prevent anyone from meeting the MP.

But Ms. Workman said that is not true. The Canadian High Commission has spoken with relevant Sri Lankan police and immigration authorities, all of whom have advised that at this time they have no arrest warrant, she said.

"Canadian officials in Ottawa have spoken to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Canada who has been in contact with her authorities in Sri Lanka who have confirmed to her that media reports of a house arrest are false," said Ms. Workman.

Ms. Sitsabaiesan, 32, came to Canada with her family at the age of five and was elected to the House of Commons in 2011.

The MP said her experiences  in Sri Lanka are a reminder that defending principles of human rights is not easy. "But I continue to believe that it is only through open dialogue and freedom of expression that people can ultimately achieve healing and reconciliation."

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Ms. Sitsabaiesan took on a prominent role in New Democrat efforts to urge Prime Minister Stephen Harper to boycott a meeting of Commonwealth leaders that was held in Sri Lanka in November.

Mr. Harper had indicated he was giving the meeting a pass in protest of the Sri Lankan government's human rights record.

The New Democrats and others have called for the Asian country's government to submit to an investigation into alleged war crimes during the country's lengthy civil war.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More


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