Grenadian information minister Einstein Louison announced yesterday that he intervened personally to allow Jamaican journalist Tenesha Thomas of the regional news agency Caribupdate to continue working in Grenada.
Thomas, who was sent by her agency to cover Grenada’s parliamentary election campaign, was arrested on 15 February and was told she would be expelled because her residence permit had expired. Immigration officials refused to rescind the expulsion order after she had demonstrated that they had misread the permit’s expiry date.
Louison defended the immigration officials, insisted that Thomas had overstayed and regretted that Caribupdate had “politicised” the case. But he said he arranged things for Thomas “in the interests of press freedom.” She will be able to stay in Grenada until 8 March.
15.02.08 - Call for explanation of expulsion order against Jamaican journalist
Reporters Without Borders today expressed shock at the treatment of Jamaican national, Tenesha Thomas, of the regional news agency Caribupdate who was arrested yesterday on the grounds that her visa had expired and told she would be expelled today.
The worldwide press freedom organisation said the decision was all the more surprising since the Grenadian immigration service had admitted it had made a mistake. The organisation added it hoped this was not an act of covert censorship and urged the government to provide an explanation.
The political journalist was arrested and held at St.George’s by four agents of Grenada’s immigration service on the grounds that her visa had expired. She pointed out to them that officials had inverted the day and the month, confusing 8 February (8/02) with 2 August (2/08). She also showed them her return ticket to Jamaica, for the first week of March. Despite finally admitting their mistake and despite attempts by Caribupdate’s management to contact the office of the Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, the expulsion remains in force. She was due to leave for Jamaica during today (15 February).
The Media Workers Association of Grenada has condemned the incident as “an attack on press freedom”.
Thomas, who formerly worked for Jamaica’s leading daily, The Gleaner, arrived in Grenada on 1st January 2008 to report on forthcoming general elections for Caribupdate with responsibility for covering the opposition campaign. The Founder and director of Caribupdate, Hamlet Mark, himself from Grenada, said the expulsion would mean his media was being punished.
“We are shocked by the plight of Tenesha Thomas for more than one reason,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Jamaica and Grenada are linked through the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) which eases circulation of residents from one country to another as well as extensions of periods of stay. How can the expulsion of this journalist be maintained even though it has been admitted that her papers were in order? The incident gives rise to fears that the authorities are using Thomas to mete out unfair treatment to Caribupdate.”
This is not the first such case in the region. Two journalists from CARICOM countries were forced to leave Antigua and Barbuda, another member state, on 12 and 13 June 2007 in the same circumstances (See the 15 June 2007 press release).